How Many Times Can You Thaw and Refreeze Meat?

But before we jump into that, let’s talk about what we mean by thawing the meat properly. It’s important that food be kept at a safe temperature while thawing. If the food becomes warmer than 40° F, bacteria may begin to proliferate, according to the Department of Agriculture. 

So don’t do what I’ve done before, which is thaw your food on your counter. You’d be surprised how quickly bacteria like E.coli and salmonella can multiply at room temperature, says Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, an adjunct professor of the department of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University in Virginia.

The safest, most ideal way to thaw food, including meat, is in the fridge, says Amy Keating, a registered dietitian and CR food tester. Check to see whether your fridge is set to a temperature of 40° F or lower. As a general guideline, CR recommends setting it to 37° F.

After thawing food in the fridge, you can keep items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, and seafood there for a day or two before cooking, according to the USDA. Red meat cuts, such as beef, pork, or lamb roasts, chops, and steaks can be refrigerated for three to five days.

You can also thaw meat using cold water. Put it in a leakproof package or plastic bag and submerge it in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes, the USDA suggests. 

Or you can thaw it using the microwave, but if you do so, cook the meat immediately afterward because it may become warmer than 40° F in the process. And that can cause bacteria already present in the meat before freezing to multiply, says the USDA.

A big difference between the methods mentioned above is that food thawed in the fridge can be refrozen without cooking. Food thawed using cold water or the microwave has to be cooked before refreezing to be safe. 

Once you’ve made sure you’ve abided by all these safety guidelines, then you should consider the loss of quality. Every time you freeze meat, water turns into ice crystals in the cells, which damages the molecular structures in the product. When the meat is thawed, water is released, and with each cycle, more moisture is lost, says Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate of Penn State’s department of food science.

The loss of moisture could lead to meat that is less juicy and has poorer texture, says Jacob R. Tuell, PhD, an assistant professor in the school of agricultural science at Northwest Missouri State University. Other potential quality changes include lipid and protein oxidation, which are chemical processes that can cause the meat to smell and taste rancid.