A question we see a lot of misunderstanding and confusion over is : Can I Refreeze Thawed Meat?
The short answer is yes with one important caveat: it depends on which of the 3 temperature and environmental scenarios your meat is at i.e.
- Your meat is still partially defrosted / partially frozen and in its original packaging or freezer bag. You can safely refreeze.
- Your meat is fully defrosted / fully thawed but still cold to touch (at or below 40 °F if using a thermometer) and in its original packaging or freezer bag. You can safely refreeze.
- Your meat is fully defrosted / fully thawed and has been at room temperature, uncovered for more than 2 hours. You cannot refreeze and must discard.
In today's article, we take an in-depth look at each of these 3 scenarios in more detail to tease out the food safety and logic behind each to ensure you and your family are safe at all times.
But first, let’s learn what the USDA guidance is on this important aspect of food safety.
WHAT IS THE USDA GUIDANCE ON REFREEZING THAWED RAW MEAT?
Per the USDA guidance refreezing thawed meat, once the meat was covered and thawed in the refrigerator or another suitable clean cold environment, like an insulated shipping box with dry ice for example, that prevents the meat temperature from rising above 40 °F / 4.4 °C (cold to the touch) , is very safe to refreeze this semi thawed / thawed meat or cook it anytime.
In a nutshell, once the meat is cold to touch, still covered / in its packaging, it is safe to refreeze this meat. This includes all the main meats e.g. Beef, Poultry, Pork, Venison, Bison and Lamb or Mutton.
Per USDA food safety guidelines, the core temperature of a piece of meat needs to be at room temperature or higher and for 2 hours or more. The crucial two-hour time window above 40 °F (4.4 °C) is rightly referred to as ‘The Danger Zone’ by the USDA.
Can I Refreeze Partially Thawed Raw Meat? [Scenario 1]
Once the meat is still in its original packaging or freezer bag, you can absolutely refreeze partially thawed meat. This is without doubt as safe as fully frozen meat once you place it into your home freezer.
There is no loss of quality, flavor, texture, or nutritional value in refreezing partially thawed meat especially if you purchased meat that is vacuum packed.
We Define Partially Thawed Meat as “meat that is still partially frozen. When you press your fingers or thumbs gently against the meat packaging there are still some hard and semi-hard areas”
There are still many misconceptions about refreezing partially thawed meat or the belief that thawed or partially thawed meat is bad or unsafe which is simply not true and goes against current food safety guidelines and indeed good common sense.
Here are some useful tips and real-world examples to remember about partially thawed meat:
- Partially thawed meat is by definition also partially frozen and therefore still extremely cold and well below 40 degrees. Nowhere near any temperature danger zone.
- Partially thawed / partially frozen meat is still at a core temperature that is much colder and safer than that of your home refrigerator.
- Partially thawed / partially frozen meat is still at a temperature much colder and safer than meat sold in the fresh meat aisle at a supermarket.
- Partially thawed / partially frozen meat is still far too cold for any food-borne pathogens to become active.
- If your partially thawed / partially frozen meat is in a package, this is even better as there is no danger of any contamination or freezer burn due to the vacuum packaging.
- Meat purchased in the supermarket ‘Fresh’ Aisle is stocked with nothing but meat that has been frozen and thawed several times over along the supply chain and in the supermarket until it is sold. Yet, consumers have no problem believing this is both fresh and safe and not realizing they have purchased meat thats frozen and thawed several times over.
To illustrate the point further with a common real-world example: most people would think nothing of buying fresh meat at the supermarket, place it in the back of a hot car at 120 °F (48.8 °C) and perhaps then run some errands and not get home for another hour or two then place this meat in the fridge. This is not safe yet done all the time.
Refreezing partially thawed meat is very safe. Simply place in your freezer, allow to freeze, and use when needed.
Can I Refreeze Fully Thawed Raw Meat that is still cold to touch? [Scenario 2]
Yes, you can safely refreeze and cook meat in this scenario.
Once this meat is in its original package or sealed freezer bag and it is cold to touch (40 °F or less as measured by a thermometer) this is entirely safe to refreeze. This is per USDA guidelines and based on our own experience of safely eating meat for years.
Refreezing this meat will have no impact on its quality, taste, nutrient content and no issues with freezer burn if you purchased vacuum packed meat.
There is also no loss of moisture as the meat is still in its package or freezer bag.
Image: Meat products like this vacum packed Ancestral Blend are very safe to refreeze once cold to touch / 40F or less. The vacum packaging protects the meat from spoiling.
We Define Partially Thawed Meat That Is Cold To Touch As: “meat that is fully defrosted / thawed out completely with no frozen areas but still cold when placed in the palms of your hand or when two packs of this meat are placed on each side of a meat thermometer with a reading of 40F or less.
Here are some useful tips with real-world examples to illustrate how it is safe to refreeze thawed meat that is still cold to touch:
- Safely re-freezing thawed meat that is still cold to touch is no different or colder than a package of fresh meat you would purchase from the supermarket or butchers where the meat, coming from their chilled cabinet will also be cold to touch and no more than 40 °F / 4.4 °C.
- When most people do a weekly grocery shop, they will buy enough fresh meat to last the week. When they get home, they will put some meat in the fridge to consume over the next 2 to 3 days and think nothing of freezing , thawing then cooking the rest of the meat when it suits. A thawed piece of meat, still cold to the touch is no different in terms of temperatures and safety.
- To further illustrate the point on the safety of thawed meat..........did you know that meat sold as ‘Fresh’ in the fresh/chilled cabinet at a typical grocery store or butchers, has been frozen and thawed many times over ( 8 to 9 times on average), by the time you, the consumer pick it up and put it in your shopping basket.
When you go home and freeze some or all of this ‘Fresh’ chilled meat, you are actually refreezing meat that has been frozen and thawed several times before you even purchased it.
At TruBeef, we blast free all orders just once and to -85 F to capture peak freshness, peak quality and no issues with freezer burn.
If your package happens to become semi thawed or even thawed yet still cold, you are buying a quality piece of organic meat that is colder or as cold as chilled beef purchased at a Butchers or Grocery store, is very safe to refreeze/cook anytime and has only been frozen once by us and not the typical 8 to 9 times common in the grocery stores.
Can I Refreeze Fully Thawed Raw Meat that is warm to touch / Room Temperature? [Scenario 3]
No. Your meat is most definitely in the danger zone.
This package of meat is too dangerous for consumption and should be discarded.
Do not attempt to refreeze or eat this meat.
By virtue of the meat being warm to touch / room temperature, the meat is at a temperature point where bacteria, viruses, and food pathogens can multiply very quickly. It is considered dangerous after that period as bacteria can form and potentially have harmful consequences if consumed.
We Define Partially Fully Meat that is warm to touch as “meat that fully has thawed out and has reached the same temperature as the ambient room temperature. The package of meat will feel slightly warm in the palms of your hands.
Uncovered Meat Left Out to Room Temperature - Warning
It is far too dangerous if the meat was uncovered (no packaging) as the room temperature meat is at a temperature i.e. 40F to 140F aka Danger Zone .
This is where pathogens can multiply rapidly and with nothing protecting or covering the meat, pathogens will grow unhindered.
The chances of a food-borne illness in this scenario are far too high. The most common bacteria to cause food poisoning are: E Coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Norovirus.
To completely avoid any problems with a food borne illness, please check out our article How to Store Meat Safely for clear and comprhensive guidelines to storing meat and avoiding any food borne ilness.
Image: Leaving meat like this Chicken, uncovered for more than 2 hours at room temperature is dangerous. This meat is not to be refrozen nor can it be consumed.
How Many Times Can You Refreeze Steak?
The video below is an interesting experiment by Guga Foods where Guga sees how many times steaks can be frozen, thawed, and re-frozen before there is a noticeable difference in eating quality.
Is It Safe to Refreeze meat that has thawed in the refrigerator?
This is the single safest place to thaw any meat.
Items like individual steaks such a vacuum packed Ribeye steak will refrost in the fridge in 6 to 8 hours. Bigger items like a Picanha Roast will take 12 to 16 hours depending on the weight.
It is very safe to refreeze defrosted meat that has thawed in the refrigerator because the refrigerator temperature is cold enough for very safe defrosting.
We have all taken meat out to defrost overnight in the fridge with plans to cook it but it either got forgotten about or work / life just got in the way.
Once the meat has been covered and not in your refrigerator for more than 3 to 4 days maximum, you are good. Before you put your pack of meat back in the freezer, be sure to double wrap then place it in the coldest part of your freezer.
Check out our guide : How to Defrost Frozen Meat Safely for more tips on using your refrigerator as the best (and safest) tool to thaw your meat.
Is it Safe to Freeze leftovers from the refrigerator?
You may have leftovers that you did not use for dinner or simply did not get around to cooking as planned. Indeed, some of these leftovers may well have been originally frozen before you cooked them.
Luckily, you can safely place leftovers back in the freezer as long as they do not remain in the fridge for more than five days.
Always be sure to place the leftovers in a freezer bag or Tupperware and double wrap with another bag or cling film to avoid any freezer burn.
As red meat is now so expensive, make sure yourbeef or lamb leftovers are well protected in your freezer.
As mentioned earlier, we do not suggest refreezing meat or leftovers that have been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours... always remember the Danger Zone i.e. 2 hours, uncovered at room temperature.
Image: Salmonella under a microscope. 450 people in the USA die from Salmonella food poisoning eah year. Avoid eating food in the danger zone of 40F to 140F.
FDA Guidance on Refreezing Thawed Raw Meat and Thawed Food In General?
FDA guidance is the same as the USDA i.e.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is safe to consume meat kept at room temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for no more than two hours. Although if the temperature outside is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, meat should not be eaten if left out for over one hour.
What Is The Safest Way To Refreeze Thawed Meat?
Once your meat has not been fully thawed to over 40 degrees and for longer than two hours, your meat is perfectly safe to refreeze. There is no loss of quality whatsoever.
- If the meat is already in a sealed package, just place it into the coldest part of your freezer.
- If the meat is in a plastic bag or a clear plastic tray, we advise adding an extra layer of protection around this to avoid freezer burn. This is called “Double Wrapping”.
- Just place the tray or bag into another plastic bag, cling film, wrap in aluminum foil or freezer bag, and ensure this second layer covers your initial meat packaging.
- It is both ideal and a good food safety habit to refreeze frozen meats immediately after purchase.
Whether you buy meat at your local supermarket or through an online butcher, you will likely end up with meat that is in a Chilled or Frozen state.
This meat may even be slightly defrosted during transportation yet is totally safe to place directly in your freezer until ready to prepare. (see scenarios 1 and 2 above).
Does Refreezing Meat Cause It To Lose Nutritional Value?
The meat will not lose any of its nutritional value when initially frozen or refreezing meat once the packaged meat is still either:
- A) Semi Thawed or
- B) Cold to touch or 40 °F and below as measured by a thermometer.
Freezing meat is ideal for preserving its quality and nutritional value and has been used and proven for over 100 years as the single best method of preserving the freshness, quality, and nutrients of meat.
Is It Safe To Eat Meat That Has Freezer Burn?
Despite its rather sad looking appearance, freezer burn does have any harmful effects on meat nor does it affect taste or nutrient content.
You can spot freezer burn by looking for any gray, somewhat dull-colored spots on your meat.
Freezer Burn is a result of meat not being fully protected while stored in a freezer. We always suggest the double wrapping method for peace of mind and to avoid any freezer burn issues.
If your meat does have freezer burn, thaw your meat in its original package in the fridge overnight. With clean hands, chopping board, and clean knife, just slice away the slightly discolored areas caused by freezer burn and then cook as normal.
Is It Safe To Refreeze Meat That Had Freezer Burn?
If you don't want to waste food, you can Refreeze defrosted meat that previously had freezer burn following these steps.
1. Safely defrost the piece of meat overnight in the fridge.
2. With clean hands,knife and chopping board, take the meat out of the fridge and trim the dull freezer burnt areas off with your knife and discard.
3. Now double wrap the trimmed meat in 2 freezer bags making sure to remove the air out of the bags then place in your freezer for refreezing.
The Effects Of Refreezing Defrosted Meat
Refreezing Thawed Beef
Freezing, defrosting, and refreezing red meat will not lose any quality, taste, tenderness, or nutritional value. Beef can get tougher or lose its freshness after being in the freezer for too long i.e. over 12 months unless the beef is vacuum packed.
Refreezing Thawed Pork
Refreezing previously thawed pork may result in a little discoloration and some loss of moisture if not well sealed and double wrapped when refreezing. Much like other types of meats, it is still safe to eat after refreezing.
Refreezing Thawed Lamb
It is safe to refreeze lamb with no effects on quality, taste, color, or tenderness. Always double wrap the lamb you intend to refreeze so you avoid any freezer burn.
Specific cuts, such as Lamb Rib Chops are extremely delicate and have sharp-edged bones so take extra care when double wrapping. For large Lamb cuts like Leg of Lamb, we suggest using large plastic bags and triple wrapping.
Refreezing poultry is safe, although we suggest double checking the color and scent to determine whether it seems safe before consumption. If you have any concerns at all, it is probably best to discard them to avoid fears of salmonella or other harmful diseases.
Buying and Storing Frozen Meat
If you plan to eat frozen meat immediately upon purchase, allow it to thaw safely overnight in the refrigerator. You can learn more information about how to store meat safely in our related blog post on this subject.
- It is safe to refreeze semi-thawed meat.
- It is safe to refreeze fully thawed meat that is cold to touch i.e. 40 °F or below.
- It is not safe to refreeze meat that is fully thawed and warm to the touch.
- Meat left uncovered for more than 2 hours is highly dangerous and should be discarded.
- There is no loss of quality or nutrients when refreezing meat.
- Avoid freezer burn by double wrapping.