Dear Home-Ec 101,
My youngest decided to get a popsicle from my deep freezer and didn’t bother to make sure the door was closed.
I know not to eat the meat products since I am not sure if they thawed and refroze, but what about the veggies?
Must I throw out the ten tons of french fries and corn on the cob? And yes, I’ve invested in a freezer door lock with a padlock to guard against future freezer-related mishaps.
Thawing in Thermopylae
Do you know when your kid got that popsicle? A day ago, two days three?
I have good news and bad news, depending on whether or not you’ve already thrown everything out.
All of the food in your freezer is fine to cook or refreeze as long as ice crystals are still present.
While the same goes for your vegetables, their quality will likely have taken a turn for the worse.
If the frozen vegetables are mushy; toss them, don’t try to save them. It is NOT worth the quality loss.
Why can’t we just refreeze thawed food?
The scenario you are looking to avoid is reaching a point where bacteria have had a chance to multiply quickly and then refreeze, which doesn’t necessarily kill all bacteria. Then, during the next thaw cycle, the bacteria have another chance to multiply, it’s a case of exponential growth where we aren’t starting anywhere close to zero.
It’s not just the bacteria, like E. coli and Salmonella that you want to avoid. Cooking doesn’t destroy the toxins produced by some bacteria, here’s looking at you staph… /tips hat like Humphrey Bogart
Just as an FYI, vegetables can also harbor bacteria. However, do not freak out.
Contamination is much LESS likely in frozen vegetables, as they have to be blanched before freezing. I’m just noting this because a vegetarian friend of mine was rather smug about not being affected by a beef recall. They weren’t as smug after the recalls for E. coli came rolling down the pike on romaine lettuce.
Does anyone else remember when Taco Bell used to serve green onions? No, just me? Fine.
If your freezer door was left ajar for a few hours and some foods partially thawed, not fully, these partially thawed foods are almost certainly safe to use. There’s very little chance that your meat is a total loss. It is unlikely that it thawed completely and refroze.
My true concern is for the motor of your freezer. I hope the freezer is the type that shuts off while the door is ajar, so there wasn’t a lot of unnecessary wear on the unit. If your deep freeze was left ajar for several days, you are correct; most of the food is a total loss.
Now, for those dealing with completely thawed freezers, it is NOT safe to refreeze. What can you do?
The couple of times I have had a freezer die on me (or had children leave the door open to the point of a complete thaw, the vegetables were mush and a loss.) One of those times, I may have sat down and cried. Money was pretty tight at the time. It hurts.
All is not lost.
You can cook the food and then freeze the fully cooked food.
The guideline to not refreeze food only means to refreeze without cooking.
- If you have a lot of ground beef to use, brown it and store it. We like to season it for tacos. Here is a recipe for taco seasoning. Clearly label your ground beef!
- If you have stew beef, go ahead and brown and stew the beef, you can thaw it right in the slow cooker with some root vegetables for a wonderful, easy stew.
- Toss the poultry into your slow cooker and then separate it from the bones to use in a bunch of different recipes. Don’t forget to use the bones to make chicken stock.
- If you have boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, these can be grilled and then frozen for use in any recipe that calls for cooked chicken.
- Another option is to put the chicken breasts and thighs in your slow cooker or InstantPot with about a cup of salsa and cook until you can shred the chicken with two forks. This makes a great filling for tacos, burritos—toss some scrambled eggs in there, and you have breakfast burritos which freeze great and are perfect for busy mornings—, enchiladas or chimichangas.
Finally, if your freezer is completely thawed as part of a major disaster, such as a hurricane, and you have other damage. The freezer contents may be included as part of your insurance claim. It will depend on your coverage, of course. For some insurance policies, food is considered a separate rider. If you are a renter, your food loss may be covered by your renter’s insurance. You do have renter’s insurance, right? If you don’t, you should work on that right now.
laimer: Heather Solos is not an insurance agent, and this is not financial advice.
I hope this doesn’t prove to be too major of a loss.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.