I know I can’t be the only one who has pulled out my bag of frozen berries from the freezer to make a smoothie and forgotten to put it back into the freezer.
If you’ve ever been there before, or perhaps had a power outage or maybe just a long, hot ride home from the grocery store, you may have noticed the warning on the back of the bag telling you not to refreeze if it has completely thawed.
So can you refreeze frozen fruit? Well, despite that warning and other myths you may have heard over the years, you can refreeze frozen fruit, but if you do, you need to be aware of the safety and quality control issues that come along with the refreezing process.
Guidelines for Refreezing Frozen Fruit
When it comes to refreezing any frozen foods, there are two main concerns: safety and quality. It’s obviously possible to refreeze frozen fruit, but if it’s going to put your health or meal enjoyment at risk, you have to wonder if it’s worth it.
All food has water in it, and fruit tends to have more than average. When water freezes, it turns to ice. As you can imagine, when the water inside your food freezes, it also turns to ice.
These ice crystals destroy the integrity of the cell walls that make up your food. It’s why a lot of frozen food goes kind of mushy and soft when it thaws – its strength has been compromised. If you’ve ever let a frozen raspberry thaw on your counter, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Adding to the problem is the fact that, when the ice crystals melt as they thaw, they create a lot of moisture and can leave food soggy. After fruit has thawed, if it goes back in the freezer, there’s even more space for ice crystals to form creating potential for an even worse outcome.
Safety Concerns of Refreezing Fruit and Other Foods
The process of refreezing is not inherently dangerous. The danger comes from the risk of contamination and degradation that happens after the food is thawed.
Freezing does not kill bacteria or mold, so if food gets frozen after a contaminant moves in, it will continue to multiply the second it thaws.
Protein products are much riskier than fruits because bacteria feeds on protein. That said, mold feeds on carbohydrates, particularly simple sugars, which is what fruits are primarily made of.
Mold isn’t likely to make you seriously ill, but it is certainly not a tasty flavor and it can have consequences, so you obviously want to prevent it from taking over your fruit.
If you must refreeze thawed frozen fruit, you have two options: cook it first or refreeze it as soon as possible, before any bacteria or mold can take hold.
Cooking the food basically makes it a new food, so freezing it now is the same as freezing it for the first time. Just be very sure it’s cooled to room temperature before you freeze it. Never freeze hot or even warm food because it can cause the food nearby to partially thaw, opening the bacteria/mold growing window that you’re trying to avoid.
If you don’t want to cook your fruit, you can refreeze it as long as you thaw it in your fridge and it’s not left out on your counter or any warmer than 40F. You’ll also want to be sure to refreeze within 2 days, 3 at the absolute most. Beyond that, you’re simply asking for trouble.
Quality Concerns of Refreezing Fruit and Other Foods
You now know what happens to food when it gets frozen and that fruit tends to have quite high-water content, so you can probably imagine that when it thaws, it won’t be nearly as crunchy and textured as it was when it was fresh.
In fact, quite often, fruit comes out of the freezer on the mushy side which makes it ideal for baking with, putting into smoothies or soups or using it pureed and soft in any other way that appeals to you.
If you refreeze it, the strength and elasticity are going to be even further compromised, which isn’t a problem for using in cooking, but it pretty much guarantees that it’s not coming back out of the freezer in anything but a clump of fruit welded together.
If you refreeze more than once, then you’re more likely to notice a difference in the flavor and the nutrition will go down substantially every time your fruit is thawed.
Refreezing Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is a bit different from whole fruit, or pieces of fruit. Juice concentrates may get more difficult to perfectly dissolve with water, but they’ll be safe for consumption so long as they’re thawed in your fridge and kept below 40F.
That being said, fermentation happens more quickly in fruit juices because of the high sugar content, so you want to be sure you refreeze as quickly as possible to keep your fruit juice as fresh as possible, and definitely don’t leave it out on your countertop in the warm summer air.
If you notice any odd colors, smells or sliminess, it’s a good idea to toss your juice and start with a fresh batch.
How To Freeze Fruit So You Don’t Have to Refreeze It
If you don’t want to be faced with overly mushy fruit or a whole lot of fruit to use up all at once, the key is to freeze your fruit so that it’s easy to thaw only as much as you need for a single-use.
Just like when you get good quality frozen fruit from the supermarket, if each individual piece or berry is frozen separately before being dumped together with all the other pieces and berries, it will stay individual, which means you can scoop out just as many pieces as you want, rather than trying to chisel a chunk off a big block or thaw the entire frozen contents to get what you need.
Additionally, if you freeze pieces individually, they’ll each freeze faster than they would as a collective group all smashed together. The faster your fruit freezes, the smaller the ice crystals that form will be, and the better your fruit will stay intact when it thaws.
It’s actually not that difficult to achieve these individualized results. It just takes a bit of extra commitment.
As Fresh as Possible
The first rule for freezing fruit is to freeze it as fresh as humanly possible. If you grow your own, that’s the best-case scenario – simply pick it when it’s perfectly ripe, cut it into pieces and freeze.
If you don’t grow your own, shopping from local farmer’s markets or at the very least finding local options in your favorite grocery store is the next best thing. The problem with fruit coming in from Mexico when you live in New York, for example, is that the fruit is picked when it’s not quite ripe, then shipped and likely stored for a few days. By the time you get it, it’s probably been a week since it was picked, and a lot of the nutritional value is lost by then.
Use Ascorbic-Citric Acid
You’ll also want to get yourself some ascorbic-citric acid, which you should be able to find in the canning section of your supermarket. Ascorbic-citrus helps preserve the integrity of your fruit once it’s cut. It stops the fruit from ripening any further, protects if from oxidation (which is what turns apples brown), and keeps the vitamins and nutrients inside the fruit where it belongs.
Dry Packing Fruit
Dry packing is what allows your fruit to freeze in individual pieces, instead of freezing together in a clump. You can choose to freeze your fruit unsweetened or sweetened but adding sugar will further help prevent texture and color changes.
If you’re not using sugar, simply use 1 tablespoon of ascorbic-citric acid per 4 cups of fruit. If you are adding sugar, add the ascorbic-citric acid to your sugar and let the fruit stand for 10 minutes or so to allow the sugar to soak in. The amount of sugar you use is really up to your taste preferences and how sweet or sour the fruit is naturally.
Either way, just toss your fruit with the acid and sugar if you’re using it and then spread out your pieces evenly on a baking sheet or cookie tray lined with parchment paper so that they’re not touching each other.
The faster you can freeze your fruit, the smaller the ice crystals will be and the better quality fruit you’ll have when you thaw it. Freezing in individual pieces helps your fruit freeze faster, but you’ll also want to make sure that there’s room in your freezer for air to circulate, which also increases how quickly it will freeze.
If you have more fruit than fits on a single tray, prep and freeze one tray at a time. It should only take 20 – 30 minutes for your individual pieces to freeze and then you can transfer them into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag or container.
If you’re using a bag, pack the fruit in tightly and remove as much air as possible. If you’re using a Tupperware or glass container, pack the fruit in tightly so that there’s not much room for air in between pieces, but there is 1 inch of space at the top of the container.
Once one tray is frozen and transferred, you can prep and freeze your next batch.
How To Thaw Frozen Fruit
If you think there is any chance that you’ll be refreezing your fruit after thawing it, you want to be sure to let it thaw in your fridge and always keep it below 40F. As long as your fruit stays cold, bacteria and mold won’t form and it will still be safe to refreeze.
Even if you don’t refreeze your fruit, it’s still a good idea to let it thaw slowly in your fridge. This is also the slowest method, but it’s the safest option. If you know you’re going to be using your fruit, just try to remember to take them out of the freezer the night before you need them, and they’ll be defrosted by morning.
It’s always a good idea to place your frozen bag or container of fruit on a plate or inside a larger container in your fridge to catch any water or juice that may run off in the thawing process.
If you find yourself in a jam and you need to thaw your fruit in a hurry, you can soak your frozen fruit in cold water. This is almost as safe as thawing it in your fridge, but it’s difficult to guarantee it won’t get over 40F. It’s quite a bit quicker though.
Make sure your fruit is safely contained in a waterproof bag or container, and then submerge it into a bowl of cold water. Check on it every half hour and drain your water to add fresh, cold water to keep it from warming up. As soon as your fruit is thawed enough for use, go ahead and use what you need and quickly put the rest in your fridge.
If you absolutely cannot wait for your fruit to thaw, you can defrost it in the microwave but, if you do this, you shouldn’t freeze it again unless you cook or bake it first. This is the most unreliable way to thaw your fruit, so watch it carefully. Work in short, 1 minute or fewer bursts, and stir as soon as you can to help distribute the heat.
Can you freeze meat twice?
You probably shouldn’t freeze meat twice. Protein is the favorite food of bacteria, so unless you’re 100% certain your meat was not exposed to any bacteria, your best bet is to cook it after it’s thawed the first time.
If you buy previously frozen meat from your local supermarket, it should have been packaged in a food safe environment, making it safe to refreeze. If you thaw it and then cook it, then yes, you can freeze it again. Aside from safety, when you freeze meat the quality degrades, so if you freeze it twice, your more likely to end up with tough, dry meat.
Can you refreeze ice cream?
You should not refreeze ice cream. When it melts, the physical structure of this delightful desert changes and the fat separates from the water. Even if you mix it, it won’t recombine, so refrozen ice cream will end up having large chunks of ice inside it and an overall unpleasant texture.
It can also be dangerous. Listeria is a type of bacteria that is particularly attracted to dairy products and freezing will not kill it. You may as well just go ahead and eat up your ice cream nice and quick. You know you want to.
Are frozen fruit as healthy as fresh fruit?
Frozen fruit is picked when it’s ripe and frozen immediately, keeping the majority of the vitamins safe inside the fruit. Water soluble vitamins like the Bs and C will drop slightly, but not entirely. Fresh fruit picked from your own garden and eaten immediately is going to be even more nutritious.
Fresh fruit from a local source picked earlier that day will probably be healthier as well. Fruit that has travelled for days to get to you will have lost a lot of its nutritional value along the way, so frozen fruit may be a better option here.