Freezing meat is something that we all do. Buying ground beef, poultry, and fish in bulk and freezing it in your freezer can save you money and additional trips to grocery stores. But can you refreeze cooked meat?
Cooked meat can be safely refrozen if you thaw it using the right technique and don’t let it sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep in mind that thawing meat increases the multiplying process of microbes. It means that refrozen meat will have increased bacteria count.
However, it becomes a non-issue if you heat the refrozen meat to a safe temperature. In this article, I’ll explain a detailed method to refreeze meat in the best possible way to minimize food wastage.
How to Refreeze Cooked Meat?
According to USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) guidelines, you should never thaw previously cooked foods, including meat, at room temperature, like on the kitchen counter, if you plan to refreeze it. Frozen food that has already been cooked must be thawed in the refrigerator.
While it’s safe to refreeze food that you thawed in the refrigerator, you need to make sure it doesn’t sit in the fridge for more than 48 hours for thawing purposes. The longer the cooked and thawed meat sits at room temperature or in the fridge, the more bacteria it will have.
It’s also important to note that refreezing cooked meat will lose its taste and quality a bit due to moisture loss. But it’ll be safe to eat when re-thawed and reheated again.
The following are the steps that you can use to refreeze cooked meat safely.
Step 1: Thaw Cooked Meat Correctly
As mentioned, you should always thaw cooked meat in the refrigerator if you plan to freeze it again. The outside of the frozen food will thaw faster than the inside if you thaw cooked meat at room temperature.
Resultantly, the bacteria will start to multiply at a much faster rate on the outer layer of meat while the inside is still frozen. Thawing meat slowly in the refrigerator allows you to avoid this scenario.
So, place your previously cooked and frozen meat inside your refrigerator and let it defrost. Depending on the size of your cooked meat, it will take about 12 to 24 hours to thaw fully.
Step 2: Thoroughly Reheat Thawed, Cooked Meat
Once the cooked meat has thawed properly, remove it from the refrigerator and heat it properly. You’ll need to make sure that the internal temperature of your meat reaches the recommended CDC limits to kill any existing bacteria. It’ll make your food safe and free of harmful microbes.
The following are the minimum internal temperatures you need to reach to ensure your meat is safe to consume, depending on the cut of meat you’re dealing with.
- Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, and beef: 145 degrees Fahrenheit
- Ground meats, including pork and beef: 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- Poultry, including ground turkey and chicken: 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Fish: 145 degrees Fahrenheit
Reaching at least these internal temperatures will make sure that any harmful microbes have been destroyed.
Step 3: Prepare the Cooked Meat for Refreezing
After heating the cooked meat, you’ll need to make sure that you prepare it quickly for refreezing. The meat won’t be safe to refreeze if it sits at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit).
A good strategy is to separate the amount of meat that you want to serve/eat presently and cool down the rest right after heating. Adding meat to a plastic bag and submerging it in ice water is one of the easiest and safest ways to cool hot meat quickly.
It’ll take about 15 to 20 minutes and minimize the risk of dealing with any food safety problems.
Step 4: Divide The Meat into Meal Size Portions
Once you have properly cooled down the meat, start dividing it into small meal-size portions. It will help you rethaw and reheat only the amount of food that you can easily finish in a single meal. In addition, it’ll also ensure that the meat refreezes safely and has fewer ice crystals.
Step 5: Add Portions to Freezer-Friendly Containers
Now you’ll need to add each portion of cooked meat to a separate freezer-friendly container. You can use Zip lock bags for this purpose.
Make sure that you squeeze out as much of the air as possible from each bag. Additionally, the bags shouldn’t have any holes as they’ll allow the moisture to escape, which leads to freezer burns and affects the food’s taste significantly.
Don’t forget to add labels to bags before placing them inside your freezer. It’ll allow you to reuse the refrozen meat before it has sat too long in the freezer.
Tips to Refreeze Cooked Meat
- Make sure that your freezer’s temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below to refreeze cooked meat safely.
- If you refreeze cooked meat using the method discussed above, it’ll stay fresh for up to six months. However, I recommend you use your frozen cooked meat within two to three months to enjoy the best taste and quality.
- Avoid refreezing cooked meat more than once. Not only will it taste odd (due to too much moisture lost through multiple thawing cycles), but it’ll also become more prone to microbial formation, which can be harmful to your health.
- The best way to avoid refreezing cooked food, including meat, is to freeze it in meal-size portions. This way, you’ll need to thaw food that you can easily finish.
- Cold food dishes containing mixtures of meat, like pizzas, pot pies, and casseroles, lose their quality and taste significantly. So, you should avoid refreezing such foods.
- After cooking raw foods, including meat, you can use the same technique talked about above to refreeze them.
- If you purchase previously frozen meat from a retail store, and it has been handled properly, you can cook and refreeze it as well. However, you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t sit at room temperature for more than an hour.
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Refreezing Cooked Meat – Conclusion
While it’s possible to refreeze cooked meat, you should avoid it as much as possible because it deteriorates the food’s quality and taste.
The best way to avoid the need to refreeze cooked meat is to cut it into meal-size portions (while still raw) before freezing it for the first time.
But it happens to the best of us. So, if you forget to use that approach, you can use the method discussed in this guide to refreeze cooked meat safely.