Whether you have leftovers you want to refreeze or the power went out, it’s common to wonder how to deal with defrosted foods. Can you just freeze it twice and slap it back in the freezer or do we need to throw it out? I have dealt with this issue many times over the past 50 years and give can you a definitive answer.
So can you refreeze fruits and vegetables? If fruits or vegetables are still in a properly sealed container and have not obviously spoiled, it is generally safe to refreeze them. However, expect the quality to be somewhat diminished.
Knowing how to ensure your fruits and vegetables are safe to refreeze is paramount to maintain good food safety. It is also wise to know how to store your produce efficiently so they last longer and taste better when you do eventually eat them. Now let’s go into greater detail how to decide whether to refreeze your fruits and veggies or throw them out.
Things to Consider When Fruit and Vegetables Are Refrozen
First off, if the produce is not completely defrosted yet, it’s probably fine to just immediately refreeze it. Oftentimes, when a freezer starts defrosting, for example during an unexpected blackout, the inside will still stay colder than the surrounding areas for a long time.
So, if your fruit and vegetables are still cold and partly frozen, and you can refreeze them immediately, there is nothing more to worry about. However, if they are fully defrosted and have reached temperatures warmer than a fridge, you will need to consider what to do.
Decide Whether to Refreeze or Not
The first and foremost thing to consider is if you produce is actually still “good”.
1. Look for Signs of Spoilage
It is important not to refreeze any fruits or vegetables that may be contaminated and lead to you contracting a foodborne illness once thawed and consumed. There are easy things to look for or to consider before refreezing your fruits and vegetables.
- First, visually check your produce for signs of spoilage and smell them for a foul odor. Remember, freezing does not kill bacteria, it just prevents it from growing. When you thaw the fruits or vegetables down the line, they will be in worse condition than when you froze them. If it spoiled now, it will be rancid after refreezing.
- It is also good to think about the recent history of your fruits and vegetables and how they came to be thawed in the first place. If it was from a prolonged power outage, or because you left your groceries on the counter, contemplate if there had been enough time for bacteria and pathogens to grow to infectious levels. Remember, bacteria divide every twenty minutes.
- It is also a sound practice to consider if any cross-contamination may have occurred while the fruits or vegetables were thawed. Look for things like damage to the packaging or if any meat may have touched your vegetables.
If anything gives you cause for concern, then it is probably wise to not refreeze these fruits and vegetables and throw them away.
If the fruits or veggies have been defrosted long enough to go “off” in any way, such as by developing mold, changing color or fermenting, you will have to dispose of it. Refreezing it will not be able to undo this type of damage.
Even if not visibly damaged, bacteria increasingly grow in your produce the longer it was defrosted. The longer the time period has been, the less suitable refreezing is. Unfortunately, there is no clear time limit, but use your best judgment and consider alternatives as described below if your produce has been fully defrosted for longer than a day or two.
2. Was the Freezer or Containers Damaged?
You should consider the environment the food has been while defrosting. If your freezer was not otherwise compromised and all your fruit and vegetables are still in sealed containers, (as should be best-practice when freezing produce!), no outside materials will have contaminated them.
However, if your freezer was damaged in an accident, such as a fire, and/or your produce containers have become damaged or opened, bacteria, dirt and other contaminants can enter your food. Carefully consider which parts need to be discarded, such as all fruit juices, and which large items can be cleaned and reused. Only refreeze what you are absolutely 100% sure is uncontaminated.
By the way, here are some awesome freezer containers (Click to see on Amazon) that I highly recommend looking into.
3. What Are You Using the Fruits or Veggies For?
If quality is not important, the damage done by refreezing fruit or vegetables can be ignored. However, you may want to consider alternative ways to preserve them if it is important to you. It all depends on what your plans are.
If you are refreezing them, they will usually still be good to use in jams, cakes, stews, and similar dishes without any discernible difference. If you are making quality gourmet dishes, you may want to avoid refrozen fruits and veggies.
Alternatives to Directly Refreezing Fruit and Vegetables
If you are unsure about refreezing, alternative ways of preserving food can be a good option.
Simply cooking the food and then refreezing can reduce concerns about bacteria, as completely boiling food will generally eliminate harmful bacteria. However, remember to quickly cool down cooked food by portioning it out, as food that is kept warm for long periods will quickly grow bacteria again. This method can range from simply turning apples into apple sauce or pie filling, to making complete stews to then freeze.
If you are unable to refreeze your produce, consider making jams, preserves or pickling your items.
How to Avoid Accidental Defrosting
The best way to avoid difficulties with refreezing is to avoid accidental defrosting of produce.
- Consider back-up generators if you do not already have them, especially if you have large stocks of frozen food.
- If they too have failed or you have no other ways of generating electricity, slow down defrosting by keeping the freezer closed, not adding new items and piling all your frozen items together. This also works if your freezer is physically damaged, as the smaller surface area of items piled together will slow down defrosting.
- Consider the coldest area to store them to avoid full defrosting. In winter, a safe and secure area outside may be best, while in summer a cellar or other cool room would be preferable. As a benchmark, remember that in a fridge, it takes most items around a day to defrost.
What Happens When You Freeze and Refreeze
Freezing preserves food by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and pathogens and preventing enzymes from catalyzing degradation reactions within the food’s cells.
Unfortunately, the freezing reaction can have negative effects on the food’s flavor, texture, while lowering the nutritional content. You can expect a 10% loss in vitamin C, a 25% loss in vitamin B1, and appreciatable losses in vitamin B2 and vitamin A over time. This arises because water expands when it freezes and becomes ice. This process can burst the cells in frozen food.
Additionally, high-water content foods such as fruits and vegetables can have ice crystals form that will intensify this degradation. For this reason, it is best to dry the exterior of your fruits and vegetables as best you can before placing them in the freezer. The lower the temperature, however, the smaller the ice crystals will be and the better condition your thawed fruits and vegetables will be.
What Happens When Fruit and Vegetables Are Defrosted?
When fruit and vegetables defrost, so do any bacteria that remain on them. This is not a question of how thoroughly they have been cleaned before freezing, as with any surface some bacteria will remain and are perfectly natural. These bacteria are not necessarily dangerous by themselves, but their return to normal temperatures will cause them often cause them to multiply quickly. At high levels, this can be dangerous and cause the food to spoil sooner.
Once defrosted, the consistency of fruit and vegetables also changes. In the simplest terms, freezing will cause the water inside fruit and vegetables to expand into ice crystals. These crystals will cause some damage to the consistency of your fruit and vegetables.
When freezing them once, this is not always that noticeable, though you will typically notice the amount of juice released when freezing the produce again. This comes from the cells broken by the ice crystals and is not just water but also fruit juice. Often, you will be using this juice together with the produce, so nothing is lost.
How to Properly Thaw Food
Whether you can predict the need for refreezing your fruits and vegetables, its good practice to thaw them in the refrigerator. While it may be faster to defrost at room temperature, it makes your fruits and vegetables an excellent breeding ground for bacteria. In the same vein, make sure you always use sealed containers for all steps of the process to reduce any cross-contamination.
Why Freeze Fruit and Vegetables?
Freezing food as a method of preservation is something humans have been doing since they inhabited frozen lands. Since household freezers became commonplace in the 1930s, our dependence on frozen foods in the western world has become universal.
In fact, it is an important part of the day-to-day running of many households across the world today, ranging from storing ingredients to have them readily available when needed, to freezing full meals in individual portions. It is one of the easiest ways to keep food fresh for a long time if you have access to sufficient electricity.
Freezing food affords people the benefit of separating the consumer from the food production cycle. Whether this is a family group freezing items bought or gathered in bulk, or companies storing food that has been harvested in one season to sell throughout the year, the ability to easily preserve food through freezing means that the precarious link to harvest timing is broken.
Freezing is not only easier than many other preservation processes, as the items only need to be placed in the freezer in a suitable container, but it also means that the produce, once defrosted, is almost just as good as it was when fresh.
How Long Will It Keep?
For fruit and vegetables, in particular, freezing will keep the produce good for at least a year. Commercially frozen fruit and vegetables may be blanched before being frozen which can affect the vitamins in the fruit and vegetables. It is done to kill bacteria and preserve the color and flavor.
However, water-soluble vitamins can be lost. When freezing at home, blanching is less common so this may not be a concern. In general, any type of storage method will affect vitamin and nutrient content, but this is not specific to freezing.
No matter what you are freezing, make sure you follow best practices and you should be fine.
How to Freeze Fruits and Vegetables Correctly
You might think that once your fruits and vegetables are thawed that there is little you can do to preserve their texture and flavor during a refreeze. However, following the same methods that you use going from fresh to frozen can help create great-tasting produce the next time it is thawed.
Method 1: Flash freeze your fruits and vegetables
Flash freezing is a popular method used by mass manufactures when they freeze their vegetables. The process involves freezing the food rapidly to prevent the formation of large ice crystals which protects the texture and nutritional content of the produce.
A common method to flash-freeze is to wash and thoroughly dry your berries or beans, for example, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You want to spread the fruits and vegetables out so that they are not touching each other. This will assist in each vegetable freezing at the same rate. Place the sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes to two hours before storing them in a suitable container. When you thaw flash-frozen foods, there should be minimal ice damage and your vegetables should even still be crunchy!
Method 2: Blanch the vegetables
This method has the benefit of also boiling the vegetables before refreezing them, killing any bacteria in the process. The boiling process also destroys enzymes in the vegetables which account for nutritional degradation while the vegetable is in the freezer. Killing the enzymes assists in the preservation of flavor, texture, and nutritional content.
To blanch vegetables, boil them for around 60 seconds or until you notice their color turn a little brighter (this can take up to a few minutes depending on the vegetable). Once this occurs, drain the vegetables and immediately put them into ice water. After a few minutes, they should be completely cooled. If possible, use the flash-freezing protocol above to optimally freeze your vegetables. if not, dry your vegetables and place them in a suitable container and place them straight into the freezer. Note, by overstacking your unfrozen fruits and vegetables, you may encounter bruising.
Always use proper storage containers for your fruits and vegetables. The best containers have a tight lid, while you should use bags that are freezer-rated and are moisture-proof. Fruits and vegetables are best stored in bags, with as much air removed as possible. This will keep them in the best condition during storage.
The accidental or deliberate defrosting of fruits or vegetables does not mean it needs to be eaten now or thrown away. If you use your due diligence and make sure the food is still safe, you can typically refreeze it without worry.
However, to be completely safe from contracting a foodborne illness, try to avoid refreezing foods. Even so, if your thawed fruits and vegetables are unspoiled, there is minimal risk associated with refreezing them. To maintain flavor, texture, and nutritional content, flash-freeze your fruits and vegetables before refreezing.
If you are looking for more tips on preserving your food, be sure to browse my other articles in the preservation category.
Thanks for stopping in!
- Freezer-Safe Plastic Containers– A must-have for properly storing vegetables.
- Portion-Sized Mylar Bags– A great option if you want to be efficient and make sure you never thaw out too much food. Just get out the right amount of portion bags for each meal.
- 1 Gallon Mylar Bags– If you want to vacuum seal and store veggies for the long-term or enough for a meal for a large family.
- Vacuum Sealer– One of the best ways to keep food safe is to vacuum seal it. This also helps minimize the size of your bagged foods, helping out with space issues in the freezer.
How long do frozen fruits and vegetables last? Most frozen fruits and vegetables will last for up to a year without a noticeable loss of quality. Following this, natural enzymes will have sufficiently broken down the cells, diminishing the quality of the fruit or vegetable. After this period, they are probably safe to eat but will taste bland have little nutritional value.
What foods should you not refreeze? While you can theoretically refreeze any food, there are some high-risk items that it would be best to avoid. Meat and fish are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria, and unless they have been handled carefully, are probably full of bacteria. A better, rather, a safer option would be to cook the meat or fish and then freeze it.
Can you refreeze meat or seafood? Refreezing meat or seafood can be tricky, especially as many types of meat contain specific bacteria. If you freeze large amounts of meat or seafood, you should do specific research into how best to handle accidental defrosting. In general, it’s best to err on the safe side and go ahead and cook the meat. You can then refreeze it after it’s safely cooked.
Can you eat 2 year old frozen meat? After 2 years, while meat may still usually be safe to eat, it will likely be significantly deteriorated in the flavor department. Expect it to potentially be tougher and dryer once cooked.
Can you refreeze bread? Bread is typically safe to refreeze after it has thawed. However, it’s flavor and texture will be diminished. Toasting is a good way to help combat this issue.