Refreezing meat, explained: Here’s how to get the best results from frozen food

Frozen food can be the saving grace of a weeknight meal. After a long work day, sometimes the easiest dinner comes from the depths of the freezer. It’s also the most effective way to preserve hamburger meat for next week or a just-in-case package of bacon.

Still, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The room-temperature ground meat suddenly becomes a meal for tomorrow, or a cooked frozen meal needs to be frozen once again.

Storing thawed meat is a delicate practice, and can even make you sick if it sits outside of the fridge for too long.

If you’re struggling with how to refreeze meat that’s already thawed, commit these food safety guidelines to memory.

Can you refreeze meat after thawing?

Refrigerator-thawed, raw or cooked meat is safe to refreeze, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns the meat may lose some quality due to moisture loss. You should not refreeze foods that have been outside of the fridge for more than two hours, or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.

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How long can frozen meat sit out?

As the USDA warns, leaving meat out of the fridge for more than two hours can be unsafe. This is because thawing reactivates microbes like bacteria, yeast and mold that were present before freezing.

Safe thawing can mitigate this risk and cooking will destroy any microbes, the USDA says. You can safely thaw your meat by keeping it in the fridge for a day or two or in a plastic bag fulfilled with cold water. You can also defrost meat in the microwave right before cooking.

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Can you refreeze food after t

Vegetables, thawed fruit and juice concentrate can safely be refrozen but might lose texture, appearance and even some flavor. Breads and other bakery items can also be refrozen, but the process may dry out the product.

Check out’s cold food storage chart for guidelines on how to store everything from hamburgers and shellfish to soups and stews.

Is it safe to eat frozen food with ice crystals?

If something has been in the freezer too long, it can develop ice crystals known as freezer burn.

While freezer burn looks unnatural and maybe a bit unappetizing, your meat is still safe to eat. The USDA suggests cutting heavily freezer burnt parts away when cooking to ensure the best quality.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can you refreeze meat? How to safely preserve your frozen food.