There’s been a time when you dealt with frozen beef. You bought frozen burger patties for a big cookout, or scored a whole cow at your local butcher and stored it in the freezer to use throughout the year.
But what if you grill those patties and end up with a lot of leftover cooked burgers? Or what if you thaw a few steaks and realize your dinner guests are vegetarians?
Can you refreeze beef? According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the answer is yes, as long as you do it safely.
Salmonella and E.Coli Safety
Beef is sometimes eaten raw or partially raw, unlike chicken. However, the USDA doesn’t recommend eating raw or partially cooked beef, as salmonella and strands of E.Coli can still live on the meat, particularly ground beef (hamburger patties, meatballs, etc.).
Maintaining proper temperatures will keep bacteria to a minimum, so make sure to store it in the fridge below 40ºF. Thankfully, any bacteria will be destroyed entirely when cooked to the proper internal temperature.
For ground beef, cook it to 160ºF, while other cuts are safe at 145ºF. If you want to eat raw or partially cooked beef, eat at your own risk.
When freezing beef, first make sure it’s securely wrapped. You can simply throw the prepared package (those plastic-wrapped styrofoam containers) into the freezer, but it’s better to add another layer of plastic wrap or put it into an airtight bag for good measure.
If you buy beef from the butcher, you definitely need to re-wrap it. Then make sure your freezer hits 0º or below so it freezes quickly and stays that way for as long as you need.
It also doesn’t hurt to put a date on the package, just in case it gets lost in the freezer.
The safest way to thaw beef is to do it slowly in the fridge. But if you’re running short on time, place it in a secure ziplock bag and set it into a cold water bath.
Make sure to change the water every half hour so it stays cold. You can also thaw beef in the microwave if absolutely necessary.
Just make sure you cook it immediately after thawing, as some parts may start to cook.
Refreezing Uncooked, Previously-Frozen Beef
Your vegetarian dinner guests won’t be excited about the steaks you’ve been thawing in the fridge. Thankfully, it’s safe to refreeze thawed beef.
However, when it’s time to unthaw again and cook dinner, you may find that certain pieces are a dryer than usual or have some discoloring.
Moisture is lost each time you thaw out the beef. If those steaks you pulled out start to unthaw even a little bit, you can totally refreeze them for another time. Just make sure you thaw them properly.
Refreezing Cooked Beef
After grilling off too many hamburger patties, you may need to refreeze the leftovers.
Be sure to freeze them within 3-4 days, and don’t refreeze anything that’s been left out on the counter and out of the fridge for longer than 2 hours.
However, if you grill beef outside in the 90º heat, it’s best to refreeze it within the hour.
Frozen beef will be safe in a 0ºF or below freezer for years. The quality, however, tends to deteriorate the longer the beef spends in the freezer. Here’s how long you can expect for each type of beef:
- Hotdogs, ham, lunch meats: 1-2 months
- Uncooked ground beef: 3-4 months
- Cooked beef: 2-3 months
- Uncooked meat: 4-12 months.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2013, June 15). Freezing and Food Safety. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/freezing-and-food-safety/CT_Index