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
Dear Thawing in Thermopylae:
Do you know when your kid got that popsicle? A day ago, two days three?
I have good 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 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 some bacteria produce; 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 us? 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. You are correct if your deep freeze was left ajar for several days; 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 total 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.
Here are some ideas for what to do with the food you need to cook to get it going as quickly as possible.
Ideas to pre-cook ground beef to refreeze:
Brown the ground beef and refreeze to quickstart meals like these skillets: Or you can go ahead and season it for taco night. Here’s a recipe for no-salt taco seasoning.
Sue Polinsky’s No Tomato Chili will use up 4 pounds of ground beef or 2 – 3 pounds of ground beef and one or two pounds of stew beef.
Not up for the full effort of chili? There’s always the family favorite taco soup.
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. We’ve got you right here if you need a recipe for stew.
Soup bones? How about vegetable beef soup?
Toss the poultry into your slow cooker and then separate it from the bones to use in various 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. Pot pie, chicken soup, chicken, and dumplings.
You can roast any chicken on the bone, then pick, separate from the bones, and save the bones to make stock.
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 and burritos—toss some scrambled eggs in there, and you have breakfast burritos that 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.
I hope this doesn’t prove to be too major of a loss.
Disclaimer: Heather Solos is not an insurance agent; this is not financial advice.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.