You decide to make chicken for dinner, so you put it in the microwave to defrost. Suddenly your friend calls and asks if you want to go out for dinner, and of course you accept. Unfortunately, your chicken is already defrosted, but can you put the defrosted chicken back in the freezer? Whether you can refreeze food after thawing depends on the type of food, how the food was handled, the method of thawing and any unknowns.
Food Poisoning and Spoilage
Food poisoning and spoilage are two of the major risks of refreezing food if not handled correctly. Food poisoning is a result of bacterial growth that occurs when food is not prepared or stored correctly and causes you to get sick when ingested. Food poisoning is difficult to detect because you can’t see or smell a noticeable change in the food. A risk of defrosting chicken and then refreezing it is that the chicken may be partially cooked, which could spur the growth of salmonella, the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Temperature Danger Zone
The temperature danger zone is between 41 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for food to spoil. Food should not be in this danger zone for more than two hours at a time. The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply the fastest in this range of temperatures, which puts you at a higher risk of getting sick. Food can be refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is below the temperature danger zone. To reduce the risk of food poisoning, don’t thaw food between those temperatures.
Methods of Thawing
Chicken should not be thawed on the counter or in hot water. Don’t leave food at room temperature for more than two hours. If the food is thawed in the fridge and either contains ice crystals or is below the temperature danger zone, it’s safe to refreeze. It takes about a full day to completely thaw a pound of boneless chicken. If you defrost the food in the microwave or thaw the chicken in cold water, cook it immediately after thawing. After thawing the chicken in cold water or in the microwave, refreeze it only after you have cooked it.
Because food poisoning can be so dangerous, if you don’t know if or how long the food was in the danger zone, don’t eat it -- especially if you are unsure how the food was handled before you received it. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so either toss the chicken or continue cooking it and invite your friend over for a chicken dinner at your home.
Whether you can refreeze food after thawing depends on the type of food, how the food was handled, the method of thawing and any unknowns. Some foods are riskier than others to refreeze after thawing due to how easily bacteria that cause food poisoning are able to grow and multiply. Foods that are considered risky include meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, cooked rice and pasta and prepared salads -- including fruit.
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