In the days after Thanksgiving, we're often faced with a refrigerator full of leftovers. You have two choices: You can eat open-faced turkey sandwiches for the next week, or you can freeze the leftovers — up to three days after cooking based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and enjoy them sometime in January when the realization sets in that there are still 11 months until the next Thanksgiving.
With frozen leftovers on your mind, Laury Ellingson, CSO, registered dietitian at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, answers the question: Can you safely refreeze food after it has been thawed?
According to Ellingson, there is not a right or wrong answer to this question because some foods can be refrozen safely and others cannot.
"There are very few foods that can be fully thawed and then refrozen safely," says Ellingson. "The only thing safe to refreeze after thawing is most vegetables and breads. However, when refrozen they will lose much of their texture, flavor and appearance."
Unsure what you can refreeze and what you can't? Here are some tips.
- Thawed juicy steaks for a date, but got stood up? Do not refreeze. Instead, cook all of the meat, store in your refrigerator and eat within two days.
- Hosted your Sunday football bash and left the spread out for more than two hours at room temperature? Do not refreeze. Do not eat. Throw away for safety's sake.
- Accidently left the orange juice concentrate in your car for too long and thawed it? Refreeze after the smell test. Fruit, fruit concentrate and other like items ferment as they spoil, so check for "off" smells or flavors.
- Defrosted and cooked your mom's lasagna, but couldn't finish the whole tray? Do not refreeze. Instead, invite friends over and share, like your mother would have wanted.
- Distracted and left the ice cream out for too long and created ice cream soup? Do not refreeze.
- Thawed a loaf of bread, but then got hooked on a no-carb diet? Refreeze it, but the result will likely be a drier, lower quality taste.
When deciding whether to refreeze foods, always consider safety first and, for those that can be refrozen, consider the loss of quality. With some foods, the loss of quality may be so great that it's not worth refreezing them.
Rules for freezing
Freezing is a useful method of storing extra food because it prevents the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds that cause food spoilage and food poisoning. Meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables are great foods to freeze because they will maintain their quality longer than if cooked.
Ellingson promotes freezing food you know you won't be able to eat within its freshest time, but promotes doing it the right way for safety and optimal freshness.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, freezer temperatures need to be at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. When packing items for the freezer, Ellingson suggests tightly packing items in freezer bags or airtight containers, and labeling and dating foods.
Here are some tips on how to prevent freezer burn:
- Wrap freezer items in heavy freezer paper, plastic wrap, freezer bags or foil
- Date all freezer packages and use the oldest food first
- Place new items in the back of the freezer and older items in front for easy access
"I love cooking my favorite chicken veggie soup or three-bean chili and freezing it to have all winter," says Ellingson.
When thawing something directly in the microwave, it is important to use the "defrost" setting or reheat at 20 percent power for a longer period. "Patience is key," Ellingson emphasizes.
The safest way to defrost food is to pull it out in the morning — or sooner, depending on size — and let it defrost in the refrigerator. When in doubt, pull your thermometer out and make sure the temperature of your reheated food is at least at 165° Fahrenheit, as a good rule of thumb.