We take a deep dive into how to safely freeze, thaw and refreeze cooked and raw foods—and what should be tossed.

Frozen foods (or freezing foods yourself) can help cut down on food waste, save money and extend a foods shelf life. Most people worry about the food safety of thawing and refreezing, but as long as it's done right, it's perfectly safe. The only risk you'll take is ruin­ing the taste and texture of the food. Here we explain how to safely thaw and refreeze foods—and when it's best to discard something.

To ensure food remains safe to refreeze, it's important to thaw it safely. When you do thaw food, avoid doing it at room temperature—that keeps foods in the "unsafe" temperature range too long and risks the growth of bacteria that can make you sick. Raw food of any kind should not remain at room temperature for more than two hours, or it is no longer safe to eat. Instead, thaw foods in the refrigerator. This takes substantially longer than thawing at room temperature, so it's best to plan ahead. You can move foods from the freezer to the fridge multiple days in advance as well.

If you're in a hurry, you can immerse sealed food in cold water until thawed, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. Microwave thawing is safe and works well for high-moisture foods like soups and stews. Skip thawing meat in the microwave, though. Timing is tricky and meat can turn into leather in a hurry—not so good for eating (or refreezing).

One consideration when refreezing previously frozen food is that it can negatively affect the quality of the food due to moisture loss through freezing and thawing. Air trapped in the package or that seeps in from the freezer causes the moisture in the food to evaporate—making the food taste more dry. Freezer air can also impart off-tasting flavors. To minimize this, pack foods in airtight containers that are just a bit bigger than what you're freezing (leaving a little room for expansion as the foods freeze) or pack in freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible. Meat in plastic-wrapped trays may be frozen as is, but it's not completely airtight. For better storage, transfer to freezer bags or use a vacuum sealer.

Bottom Line

It is perfectly safe to refreeze any food that was packaged well and safely thawed, especially if it was thawed in the refrigerator. Repack it airtight and get it back into the freezer within a day. That said, food that spent more than two hours at room temp or that has an unappealing flavor or texture should be discarded.