Occasionally, frozen foods are partially or completely thawed because of delays in getting them into the freezer, a power outage, or a change of plans for cooking the food.
The basis for safety in refreezing foods is the temperature at which you held thawed foods, and how long you held them after thawing. Look closely at frozen foods you thawed partially to determine if they can be safety refrozen. Completely thawed meats must be cooked before refreezing.
Foods may be safely refrozen if they still contain ice crystals. Put the packages in the coldest part of the freezer, mark them and use them within two or three months.
If a food is completely thawed, but still cold, and refrigerator temperature (34 – 40 degrees F), move to the refrigerator and use it within two days. Do not refreeze.
If food is completely thawed, warmed to room temperature or left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, throw the food out for safety's sake. These principles apply to meat, poultry, shellfish, some vegetables and cooked foods.
Many vegetables are safe to refreeze. However, they lose much of their texture, flavor and appearance even if ice crystals are present in the package. You may want to cook the thawed vegetables and eat them right away or add to soup or stew later.
Since thawed fruits suffer in appearance, flavor and texture from refreezing, you may want to make them into jam instead.
If the entire freezer has partially thawed it may be necessary to ask friends or neighbors to refreeze some food packages for you. A freezer can only refreeze 1 or 2 pint packages per cubic foot per 24 hours. Refreezing smaller amounts of food insures that the food refroze safely and with the smallest amount of added ice crystals forming.
Thawed fruit and fruit juice concentrates can be refrozen if they taste and smell good. These foods ferment as they spoil, so check for "off" flavor. Since thawed fruits suffer in appearance, flavor and texture from refreezing, you may want to make them into jam instead.
You can cook and eat thawed but still cold food mixtures like casseroles, pot pies, frozen dinners, or pizzas but do not refreeze them.
Do not refreeze ice cream and similar frozen desserts. You can safely refreeze breads, cookies and similar bakery items. However, the end product is likely to be a drier, lower quality product.
In making decisions about refreezing foods, always consider safety first. Then consider the loss of quality. With some foods, the loss of quality may be so great that it's not worth refreezing them.
Revised 2010 by Lou Ann Jopp, University of Minnesota Extension educator.