Picture this; You remove some frozen meat from the freezer to defrost. You plan on making a delicious meal later throughout the day. Well, then life happens and for whatever reason, you’re unable to use it.
Can you refreeze meat that has been thawed at room temperature? Luckily for everyone, it is possible, but only if the meat hasn’t been left on the counter for more than 2 hours. It is a much better option to always thaw your meat in the fridge. This keeps it away from any possible bacterial growth.
Today, we will take a look at exactly how to thaw meat properly and how to safely refreeze it.
We will discuss the many factors to take into consideration and answer some frequently asked questions. Now, you never have to throw away meat again!
Freezing meat is the most common and effective way to preserve it for long-term usage. It helps protect the quality of the texture and flavor, without altering it drastically.
For example, when curing meat in salt, it completely changes the flavor. And when drying it, it alters the texture.
But, as with any preservation method used, there are a few extremely important factors to take into consideration when doing so.
Meat is frozen as a preservation method because it prevents bacteria from growing on it. This bacterium causes the meat to eventually spoil. For them to grow they require moisture, oxygen, and optimal temperatures.
The freezer eliminates all of those elements. They create a tight seal to prevent the flow of oxygen and cause the moisture in the meat to completely freeze, making it unusable.
And, a freezer works outside of the temperature danger zone. This zone is between 40-140°F (4.5 to 60°C). Anything that is left at these temperatures creates an ideal environment for harmful bacteria to grow and spoil food.
Freezers work below -18°F (0°C) making it inhospitable for the bacteria to grow.
What Happens When Meat Freezes
We won’t go into too much detail, but it is important to understand what happens when meat is freezing. This will help give you an idea of exactly what happens when you want to refreeze it and the potential risks involved.
When meat is initially frozen, the water content inside of the protein expands and crystalizes (creates ice crystals). This naturally will change the texture of the meat when it is defrosted, albeit not a considerable amount.
Once the meat starts freezing, any bacteria that was present on it will also freeze. As we have mentioned, a freezer works well outside of the temperature danger zone. It creates an inhospitable environment for the bacteria.
Unfortunately, when they freeze, they don’t die. They merely become dormant.
So, naturally, when the meat is thawed, the bacteria slowly come “back to life” and regain their ability to grow and multiply.
What Happens When You Thaw Meat at Room Temperature?
When meat is thawed, the goal is to have the ice crystals completely melt while preventing the meat from spoiling. You want to be able to use the meat in its original form.
Unfortunately, freezing doesn’t kill bacteria. It makes them dormant. So, once the ice crystals melt, they essentially “release” the bacteria.
When thawing meat in the fridge, you still place it in an environment that is very difficult for bacteria to quickly multiply and cause spoilage.
Fridges operate between -18°F to 40°F. This temperature range is still outside of the danger zone, so bacterial growth is slowed immensely.
But, when thawing meat at room temperature, you are leaving it in the heart of this zone. Then, once the meat has completely defrosted, you have brought the bacteria back to full activity. They will immediately start multiplying.
What Happens When You Refreeze Meat?
When you refreeze meat that has already been thawed, it will also refreeze all of the new elements attached to the meat.
As an example, let’s say that you defrosted meat, marinaded it, and now want to refreeze it. The flavors of the marinade that was now introduced and absorbed by the meat will freeze too.
The same applies to bacteria. When they were first defrosted, they could immediately start multiplying again. So, when refreezing the meat, more bacteria have now been frozen than what was initially present.
Should You Refreeze Meat Thawed at Room Temperature?
According to the USDA, if meat has been thawed at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, it should be discarded if not used.
However, if you manage to thaw it before the 2 hours are up, then you should be able to safely refreeze it.
One thing we will say is that refreezing thawed meat doesn’t necessarily have more cons (or at least bigger cons), but they do have much more risks, especially when the meat has been thawing at room temperature.
Pros To Refreezing Meat Thawed At Room Temperature
- You don’t throw away expensive meat and waste food.
- You can extend the shelf life of the meat and preserve it further.
- You can alter the flavor or characteristics of the thawed meat during the 2 hours it was defrosting. Then, once frozen, you essentially have a new product that will be preserved. This will also save you prep time later. You can simply remove the new product from the freezer, thaw it, and use it.
Cons To Refreezing Meat Thawed At Room Temperature
- Bacteria had sufficient time to re-activate and start reproducing again. This means that when you refreeze the meat, there will be more bacteria present than there originally was.
- The shelf life (even when refrozen) has considerably decreased.
- The characteristic soft the meat and ultimately the quality, has decreased. The water molecules have now been expended twice. This creates a very mushy texture in the meat and makes it less tender.
- The flavor of the meat will also have diluted a lot. As the meat thaw, the flavor molecules are released along with the melting ice crystals. So, thawing meat twice means twice the amount of flavor molecules lost.
Should You Refreeze Meat Thawed in The Fridge?
Refreezing meat that has been thawed in the fridge is a much safer option! This is because the meat was never allowed back into the temperature danger zone. It has been kept below 40°F (4.5°C).
This means that even if bacteria did start growing again, it would have been at a much lower rate than when they are sitting at room temperature.
Furthermore, the slow thawing process helps keep more of the meat’s original characteristics (flavor and texture) intact.
Now that we’ve gone over how to refreeze meat that’s been thawed at room temperature, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
How can you separate frozen meat pieces without thawing and refreezing them?
This is one of the biggest reasons people thaw and refreeze meat and food items in general. The best way is to prevent them from sticking in the first place, which you can do by separating pieces of meat with wax paper.
Other than that, without defrosting the meat, you will have to use a sharp knife.
How long can defrosted meat stay in the fridge?
We would only recommend keeping defrosted meat for about 2-3 days after it has thawed. Again, only if it thawed in a fridge.
If you are thawing meat that has been refrozen, don’t keep it for longer than a day. The meat already is much more susceptible to bacterial growth.
Can you refreeze partially defrosted meat?
Yes, you can. However, the quality of the item has still decreased even if it was only partially defrosted.
It would be best to just fully defrost it, make something with it (cook it) and refreeze it. This will also save you some meal prep time in the future.
How can you tell if thawed meat is bad?
The meat will have a very pungent and sour smell to it. The texture will also be sticky or slimy.
If anything doesn’t smell or look good, and if there are any signs of bacterial growth, your meat has gone off and should be safely discarded.