As a busy housewife who loves to cook, I know that sometimes life can get hectic, and it’s not always possible to whip up a fresh meal every day. That’s where freezing leftover food comes in. It’s a great way to save time and reduce food waste. But what about refreezing cooked chicken?
There are two common scenarios where you might want to refreeze cooked chicken. Maybe you thawed and reheated a big batch of cooked chicken but didn’t use it all. Or you took out raw frozen chicken, cooked it, and want to freeze it for later use. So, can you refreeze cooked chicken? Or will that violate any food safety “rules”?
If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, don’t worry! I have research-based answers for you, as well as valuable tips and techniques for freezing and thawing chicken. With these best practices, you can make your meal prep easier and more efficient!
Can I Refreeze Cooked Chicken?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety guidelines allow refreezing previously frozen food if you thawed it in the fridge – but not if you thawed it on the counter. You can refreeze unused leftovers that were not left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
So, you can refreeze cooked chicken if you follow those safe food handling practices.
Why Should You Follow These Guidelines?
Here’s why it’s important to follow the USDA food safety guidelines when refreezing cooked chicken. First, thawing food in the refrigerator keeps it at a consistent temperature. It slows bacterial growth and reduces the risk of foodborne illness. If your cooked chicken has stayed at 40°F or below, it’s safe to refreeze it.
Alternatively, if you have reheated your cooked chicken to a temperature of 165 °F, it is also safe to refreeze it as long as you don’t leave it out on the counter for more than two hours afterward. Reheating to 165°F (74° C) destroys harmful bacteria that grow at room temperature.
Remember that when you thaw and refreeze cooked chicken, its quality will degrade slightly. It may not taste as good or have the same texture as a fresh chicken because of moisture loss.
How Do You Safely Refreeze Chicken?
So, here’s the deal: it is safe to refreeze cooked chicken if you have both thawed it safely and you freeze it safely.
The best way to thaw chicken – whether raw or previously cooked – is in the refrigerator below 40°F, as it will stay cold enough throughout to stay safe at that temperature.
It’s not safe to thaw cooked chicken at room temperature. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F (known as the “danger zone.”) The outside of the chicken will warm up to the danger zone before the inside is fully thawed if you leave it on the counter.
This is why the USDA recommends refreezing cooked foods only if thawed in the refrigerator. It’s not safe to refreeze cooked chicken if you thawed it in a microwave using defrost setting. Thawing cooked chicken in the microwave can expose it to high heat. Again, the outside may get warm enough to grow E. coli or other bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses while the inside of the meat may still be frozen.
Sometimes you cook chicken with the intent of freezing it. Freezing chicken soon after cooking maintains its quality and prevents foodborne illnesses.
Separate your cooked chicken into small enough packages that the freezing process completes within 2 hours after putting it in the freezer.
For best quality, some cooking experts suggest chilling the cooked chicken in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before placing it in the freezer. This makes food freeze faster, so ice crystals don’t have enough time to transform into “piercing snowflake” shapes that tear apart the meat.
I recommend using airtight containers or ziplock freezer bags for food storage. These prevent freezer burn and keep out moisture. Be sure to write the date on the package to keep track of how long it’s been in the freezer.
Refreezing Cooked Chicken
You can keep cooked chicken and thawed chicken leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days before refreezing. If you want your cooked chicken to stay juicy and delicious, I advise refreezing it ASAP! Trust me you don’t want to end up with bland and dry chicken that nobody wants to eat!
Refreezing cooked chicken leftovers that were sitting at room temperature is risky. The longer it sits at room temperature, the greater the risk of bacteria growth that could cause foodborne illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. The bacteria responsible for most foodborne illnesses are:
- Clostridium perfringens
- Staphylococcus aureus.
These bacteria thrive at warm temperatures. So, to keep yourself safe, do not refreeze cooked chicken left at room temperature for over 2 hours. This provision is 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F.
Is It Bad to Refreeze Thawed Chicken?
Perhaps you pulled chicken out of the freezer planning to cook it tonight. But an unexpected visitor or phone call foiled your good intentions. Can you refreeze thawed chicken to reduce food waste?
We’ve already covered the rules for whether or not it’s safe to use this meat. The other concern is quality loss. When I cook once-frozen and twice-frozen chicken, my whole family can tell you there’s a considerable loss of taste and quality. So, if it’s a special occasion, I highly recommend using fresh chicken for the juiciest and most delicious results.
Chicken loses even more moisture through freezing than when it is cooked! This is because sharp ice crystals puncture muscle fibers, releasing liquid and soluble salts.
Refrozen chicken becomes even drier and leathery as it loses moisture and soluble salts twice.
Here’s what cooking experts at America’s Test Kitchen say about refreezing defrosted meat:
Refreezing Uncooked, Previously-Frozen Chicken
Sometimes the only way to have dinner ready on time is to thaw raw meat or poultry in a warm water bath or a microwave. In this situation, you need to cook it before refreezing. These thawing methods expose raw meat to “danger zone” temperatures. Cook the thawed chicken immediately to destroy harmful bacteria. Once cooked, you may safely freeze leftovers.
However, frozen raw chicken thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking. A constant safe temperature of 40°F doesn’t allow quick bacteria growth. So, the meat from the fridge is safe to refreeze for later use.
Can you freeze cooked chicken 2 times?
You can freeze cooked chicken a second time if you follow the USDA guidelines. However, it’s generally not a good practice to freeze it multiple times. Each time you freeze and thaw chicken, it can degrade its texture, quality, and safety.
To minimize the need for refreezing, try to portion your cooked chicken into smaller portions before freezing it the first time. This way, you will thaw only what you need and reduce the risk of waste.
Can you defrost the chicken, then cook it and refreeze it?
It is safe to defrost chicken, cook it, and freeze it again, especially if you thawed it in cold water or the refrigerator. Cooking the chicken to a temperature of 165 °F should kill harmful bacteria, making it safe to eat.
How to cook refrozen chicken breasts?
Refrozen chicken breasts get a terrible rap for their dry texture. To avoid leathery refrozen chicken breasts, use these cooking tips.
- Choose a recipe that calls for bite-size pieces.
- While still half-frozen, cut into very thin slices.
- Use baking soda to tenderize the meat.
- Thaw the chicken completely before cooking.
- Cook using high heat.
- Cook chicken in a sauce or broth to add moisture.
- Use aromatic herbs and season your chicken well.
- Don’t refreeze the leftovers.
To sum up, you can refreeze cooked chicken if you follow safe food handling practices. Refrozen chicken may not be as tender as fresh chicken, but it’s still safe to eat if thawed and prepared properly.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you! Let me know in the comments if you make a practice of refreezing cooked chicken or if you avoid it at all costs. I am just a click away from answering your questions!
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