It’s hard to pinpoint when the practice of trashing your thawed yet uneaten foods began perpetuating, but it’s probably caused tons of perfectly edible meals to get tossed. Tina Hanes, a registered dietitian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, breaks down this myth once and for all.
According to Hanes, if you thaw raw and cooked meats, seafood, fish and poultry correctly, you can refreeze it for future consumption. The right way? It’s actually pretty simple: Thaw it in the fridge.
For those of us who occasionally find ourselves tempted to take shortcuts in a bout of hunger—and to reinforce the importance of patience in the kitchen—let’s look at the wrong (i.e. potentially dangerous) ways to thaw food. First, don’t leave your frozen proteins anywhere outside of the fridge, like the kitchen counter or porch. Second, avoid the good ol’ “placing the meat into a Ziploc bag and running it under hot water” technique. Hanes told The New York Times, “…bacteria like it warm, like we do, and multiply rapidly at room temperature. Thawing on the counter is not safe, period. You should never do that.”
Aside from defrosting in the fridge, there are two other ways you can thaw. Use the defrost function on your microwave, or let your meat sit in cold water while it’s wrapped inside a plastic bag. If you choose this latter option, change the water out every half an hour to keep it cool until the meat is ready to be prepared. But here’s the catch: These methods require you to cook the food right away. You cannot refreeze.
In short, you can safely refreeze your thawed food as long as it’s been in the fridge—and nowhere else. Foodsafety.gov offers a handy chart that lists the period of time when food is generally safe for consumption or refreezing after it’s been properly thawed. Below is the information for the most popular types of food:
- Raw beef, veal, lamb and pork: Eat or refreeze 3-5 days after it’s safely thawed in the fridge.
- Raw poultry: 1-2 days
- Cooked meat or poultry: 3-4 days
- Raw fish: 1-2 days
- Cooked fish: 3-4 days
So there you have it—you’re now a thawing expert.