What To Do With Food When Defrosting Freezer (Explained)

Unless you are defrosting your freezer just before you do a big grocery shop, chances are that you will have some food that needs to be stored while you complete the process. So, where should you keep your food while the freezer is defrosting? 

When it comes to what to do with food when defrosting the freezer, I suggest that you use an ice chest that you’ve prepared by cooling it down ahead of time. This will keep your food at a fairly stable temperature. The food may thaw a little, but most of it will be fine to put back in the freezer.

Keep reading as I break this process down in detail and offer a few additional alternatives. I also, have a some ideas to share with you about when it may not be worth keeping your food and, instead, putting it in the garbage (or eating it quickly).

Let’s jump in!

What to do with food when defrosting freezer

Store Your Food in an Ice Chest While Defrosting

I’m going to assume that you do not have a spare freezer where you can put your frozen food when defrosting your main freezer. If you do, that is going to come in incredibly handy!

The next best alternative is to grab yourself an ice chest. Your basic ice chest is great for keeping food cold although to work best, it’s important that you cool it down for several hours by placing some ice or ice packs in it before loading it up with food.

If the inside of your ice chest is already cold when you start adding food, it will do a much better job of keeping the food cold.

Once you put your food inside, you want to ensure that the items remain as cold as possible, so surround the food with ice packs (or ice) and close the ice chest up tight. Once loaded with food, avoid opening the ice chest until you are ready to start loading up your freezer again.

The food may start to thaw a little bit, but it shouldn’t be too crazy, and unless you are taking several hours to defrost your freezer, you should be able to refreeze most of your frozen foods easily and safely.

Use a Neighbor’s Freezer When Defrosting Your Freezer

Of course, if you are on good terms with your neighbors, then ask them if they can keep hold of your food for a few hours in their freezer. As long as you do not have too much that needs to be put into storage, then they will probably be fine with it.

Of course, let them know that when they are defrosting their freezer, you are going to be there to give them a helping hand as well!

Because the food is going to be kept frozen, you don’t have to worry about anything thawing out or becoming spoiled.

what to do with frozen food while defrosting freezer

Try Wrapping Your Food In Cold, Wet Newspaper

This is a method that may act as a limited substitute to an ice chest with ice, but I cannot stress enough how much of a limited substitute it is. Chances are that a good chunk of your food will need to be tossed by the time you’ve finished defrosting your freezer.

With this method, you will want to fill up a bath with the coldest water imaginable. You will then want to place a ton of ice into the bath. That water needs to be incredibly cold if you want the food to thaw out slowly.

Finally, dunk some newspaper in the ice water and wrap each frozen food item with it. Again, you will want to ensure that everything is as cold as possible.

This is a method that tends to work much better if you have a freezer that has a quick defrosting process. This isn’t the type of method that you can use if the food is going to be sitting outside of your freezer for hours on end.

Use Your Fridge When Defrosting Your Freezer

Some of that food is going to thaw out when it leaves your freezer (more on how to identify that food soon!). This means that you may as well just put it in your fridge.

Most food from your freezer that has thawed will be fine to use out of your fridge for at least 2 days after. Although, do bear in mind that if you have frozen food that you bought from the store (e.g. pizza, etc.), then you may have to adjust the cooking times for the newly thawed food.

Remember, the food will thaw out pretty quickly. This is because you are moving it from the freezer which will be at 0F, while the fridge will be at around 35F. So, be prepared to get eating on those food items within a day or two!

How Long Before Food Starts To Thaw?

This is going to be dependent on the food. I do not feel confident enough to tell you exactly how long your food will remain frozen. You are going to need to make a judgment call on it, mostly by looking for the presence of ice crystals. If there are still ice crystals on the food, then it likely hasn’t thawed enough that you are going to need to throw it out.

Generally speaking, the larger the piece of food, the longer it will take to thaw out. For example, a turkey is going to take longer to thaw out than a few frozen strawberries would.

I think that your biggest concern isn’t whether your food has defrosted, but whether it can be refrozen. Luckily for you, I’m going to cover that in the next section.

You May Lose Some Food When Defrosting Your Freezer

In all likelihood, you are going to lose some food during the defrosting process. This is why I highly recommend that you use the food items in your freezer as much as possible before you get to work on the defrosting process (i.e. plan to do it when your freezer is as empty as it’s likely to get).

In this section, I want to give you a brief overview of whether certain foods can be refrozen. However, it is still always up to you to make a judgment call on things.

Obviously, the information here is not exhaustive. You may be storing other foods that have different requirements. If a food is not listed here, assuming that there are some ice crystals present, you probably should be fine refreezing, but always check the food carefully before you cook. 

You May Lose Some Food When Defrosting Your Freezer

Can Fruits Be Refrozen?

Most fruits can be refrozen, even if they have been completely thawed. However, if the fruit is being double-frozen, then the flavor will almost certainly be impaired. You may not want to eat it without flavoring it a little bit.

Refreezing Vegetables

Once thawed you cannot refreeze vegetables. You can instead put them in the fridge and eat them within 2-days. However, as soon as vegetables start to thaw out, there is always the risk that bacteria will begin to develop which, of course, can be dangerous.

Some people have been fine refreezing vegetables if there are still ice crystals present on the vegetables as this indicates that the frozen vegetables haven’t really thawed yet.

Refreezing Cooked Food

If you have frozen meals that you have cooked yourself, then you will be able to refreeze them, even if they have thawed out slightly. However, do bear in mind that the food is probably going to re-freeze a little bit better if there are still ice crystals on it.

Can Uncooked Meat Be Refrozen?

Any uncooked meat needs to be placed in the fridge. It would be best to let the meat fully thaw in the fridge and then prepare and eat it. If the meat is kept above 40F for more than two hours, then it needs to be thrown out.

You cannot re-freeze uncooked meat, even if there appear to be ice crystals on the meat. This is because the bacterial growth process would have likely started. What you can do, however, is cook the meat and then freeze it like that.

Uncooked Fish and Shellfish Should Not Be Refrozen

Put any fish or shellfish from the freezer into the fridge and plan to eat it within 1-2 days. Do not re-freeze any fish or shellfish. You will make yourself sick.

Ice Cream Does Not Refreeze Well

Do not attempt to re-freeze ice cream (or any other daily), if it has thawed out, then throw it away. A better idea would be to eat it all up before it melts. Consider this a treat for yourself for completing the job of defrosting your freezer 🙂

Refreezing Bread

Thawed bread can be refrozen but I do not recommend it as the quality will go down. Just use it.

Can You Refreeze Frozen Dinners

Any store-bought frozen dinners must be thrown away. They cannot be re-frozen.

Learn how to defrost a freezer from a professional housekeeper.

Two Tips For Defrosting Your Freezer

Here are a couple of important tips to keep in mind when thinking about defrosting your freezer.

Tip #1: Wait For Colder Weather

I do not recommend defrosting your freezer in the height of summer. While it can be tempting as the freezer will thaw out a little bit quicker, so will your food. This means that you will lose much more of it to spoilage.

Tip #2: Follow Manufacturer’s Recommendations For Defrosting Your Freezer

Before you defrost your freezer, always ensure that you read through the manufacturer’s instructions for your freezer. This will tell you the quickest way to defrost your freezer, which means that your food will need to be stored at incorrect temperatures for less time. This means that you will be throwing less away.

What To Do With Food When Defrosting Freezer – Final Word

While there are multiple ways that you can store your frozen food when defrosting your freezer, the best method (short of finding another freezer) is to find an ice chest and fill it up with ice. However, make sure that the food hasn’t thawed out before you re-freeze it. If it has, you may have to throw it away.