Freezing food is a great way to keep it fresh when you buy it in bulk, but after something is thawed, it’s not always safe to refreeze. Often the answer to the question, “can I refreeze this?” is “it depends.”
In general, you shouldn’t refreeze something if there’s any doubt about how safely it was stored while it was thawed. If something was out at room temperature for too long, freezing it again won’t necessarily kill the bacteria that grew during that time.
The other reason to be cautious about refreezing is texture. Every time a product is frozen—but especially meat and produce—cell walls are ruptured in the process. That’s why frozen food doesn’t always taste as good as fresh food. When you refreeze those foods after they’ve been thawed, even more cellular structure is destroyed.
Raw meat, poultry and seafood
The food safety and inspection service of the USDA says that it’s fine to refreeze raw meats, as long as they were thawed at refrigerator temperature. You should never thaw meats at room temperature anyway—not on the counter, or in a garage, basement, car, or any other place that isn’t kept consistently cold.
If ice cream has softened slightly while it’s out on the table and it’s still cold, you can pop it back in the freezer. But if ice cream melts, it’s not worth saving.
First, there’s the safety issue: if you left a carton of ice cream out at room temperature, the melted portion can get warm enough to start growing Listeria bacteria.
Second, it’s never going to get that creamy texture back. The whole concept of ice cream is built on the idea of churning a dairy mixture while you freeze it. Think about it: if you could just freeze ice cream batter and make ice cream, the device known as an “ice cream maker” wouldn’t need to exist. Refrozen ice cream will be hard as a rock and no fun to eat.
Cooked meats and other foods
Once food is cooked, it only has a few days of refrigerator time before it goes bad. If you freeze it during this time, the freezer acts as a pause button on this process. So you can refreeze cooked food that you have thawed, but get it back in the freezer promptly, within 2-4 days tops.
Again, proper handling is still required. Toss your leftovers if they were at room temperature for two hours or more, or if they were above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour or more.
Even if you think it might save you a few bucks, it’s important to know when you should just toss something. Rules like these are used in the restaurant and grocery industries, so it only makes sense to handle the food in your home with as much care.