Food poisoning may not be a hot topic of conversation among your friends and family, but food-borne illnesses are surprisingly common in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate food-borne illness affects one in every six Americans each year, and most incidences can be prevented. Thawing and refreezing food seems harmless, but in certain cases, it may increase your risk of food poisoning.
The Danger Zone
Bacteria growth causes many food-borne illnesses, and certain temperatures make bacteria grow at a faster rate. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the ideal temperature range for bacteria growth is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, often called the danger zone. Room temperature falls in the danger zone, so frozen foods should never thaw on the counter. The FDA strongly recommends discarding foods that stay in the danger zone for more than two hours. When the temperature outside exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit, discard foods in the danger zone after one hour.
Minimize the time your foods spend in the danger zone by choosing a safe thawing method. Thawing foods in the refrigerator reduces the risk of food poisoning, because the temperature of your refrigerator is 40 degrees or below. Since refrigerator-thawed foods stay below the danger zone, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that these foods can be safely refrozen within a day or two of thawing. For extra safety, buy an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer and monitor it weekly when you put away your groceries. If the temperature in your refrigerator exceeds 40 degrees, your food may be at risk for food-borne illness.
According to the USDA, you can safely thaw foods in cold water or the microwave, but these foods need to be cooked before refreezing. Foods thawed by these methods may enter the danger zone for brief periods of time, and refreezing does not completely kill any bacteria growth. Cooking makes these foods safe for refreezing. You can also safely cook foods from the frozen state, but the USDA states that these foods will take approximately 50 percent longer to cook than thawed foods.
If you lose power in your home, you may wonder if you can safely refreeze any thawed food in your freezer. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you can safely refreeze partially frozen foods or food that has an internal temperature of 40 degrees or less. Keep a food thermometer in your kitchen drawer, and place the thermometer in the center of the food to check the temperature. If the food temperature exceeds 40 degrees, play it safe and discard it.
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.