Freezing food saves you money through stocking up and storing leftovers for another meal. But what should you do if the power goes out or your meal plans change and your food has defrosted? While most foods can be refrozen if not completely thawed, each time that you freeze, thaw and refreeze food, its quality can be greatly reduced. Some foods can be refrozen, but others are better eaten quickly or discarded.
While nutrients will remain intact when refreezing foods, the food does lose quality when it is frozen, thawed and refrozen. That's because water expands as it freezes. Refreezing stretches cell walls of food products that have already been stretched and retracted from the previous freeze, leading to a loss in moisture. This affects freshness and sometimes taste. Refreezing food that has been completely thawed can also pose a risk, as bacteria may have increased their growth when the food thawed. Freezing food does not kill food pathogens; it merely slows their growth.
Many frozen fruits and vegetables change in texture when thawed and refrozen. Refreezing particularly affects uncooked vegetables that have high water content, such as celery, onions and greens like spinach. It is possible, however, to cook fruits and vegetables that have been defrosted and then freeze the prepared food. You can also prepare thawed fruit as a jam if it has been oddly affected by refreezing.
Most breads and baked goods, such as muffins, are safe to refreeze, though this may reduce their quality. Cakes and pies should be baked, eaten or discarded if completely thawed because their delicate texture does not handle refreezing well.
Meat can be refrozen raw only if it has been thawed in the refrigerator and stored there for a day or less. To ensure that this meat is eaten quickly, note on the package that it has thawed and place it in the coldest part of the freezer. You should eat refrozen raw meat within two to three months. If you have thawed your meat using a microwave or by running water over it, do not refreeze it, particularly if it has reached room temperature. However, you can cook thawed meat and refreeze it in a cooked form.
Most ice cream and popsicles should be discarded if they have melted. Refreezing ice cream will severely affect the texture, making it rock hard and icy. Casseroles, stews, pot pies and prepared meals should not be refrozen--especially if they have thawed completely--as their quality will decline rapidly and may support food pathogens.