Food safety is important, especially when it comes to frozen chicken. Salmonella is risky business and you definitely don’t want it creeping around your food. It’s common to buy frozen chicken at the store or bring fresh chicken home from the butcher and freeze it in an airtight container or ziplock bag.
And as long as you take the necessary precautions when bringing it back up to temperature, it’s perfectly safe to eat.
But what if you thaw out chicken wings and realize you already made dinner plans? Or you cook off a big batch of frozen thighs and want to refreeze the leftovers?
Can you refreeze chicken? According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the answer is yes, as long as you do it safely.
Salmonella is a nasty, food-borne illness that can contaminate raw meat and poultry and make you really sick. Thankfully, when you cook chicken all the way through to 165ºF, the salmonella dies and the meat is safe to eat.
Maintaining proper temperatures keeps the nasty salmonella from living on the chicken. That’s why it’s so important to freeze, thaw, and cook chicken properly.
When freezing chicken, 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 throw it into an airtight bag for good measure.
If you buy chicken 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 chicken 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 chicken 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 Chicken
You thawed out a few pieces of chicken and realize you won’t be cooking dinner tonight. No problem! It’s safe to refreeze thawed chicken.
However, when it’s time to unthaw again and cook dinner, you may find that certain pieces are a dryer than usual. Moisture is lost each time you thaw out the meat.
So if you snag a few packs of frozen chicken breasts at the grocery store and let them thaw even a little bit, you can totally refreeze them. Just make sure you thaw it properly.
Refreezing Cooked Chicken
After cooking off previously frozen chicken, you may decide you 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’re outside grilling chicken in the 90º heat, it’s best to refreeze it within the hour.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2013, June 15). Freezing and Food Safety. Retrieved November 14, 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
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2011, May). Food Safety Information: Salmonella Questions and Answers. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/abff4b65-494e-45f4-9d69-75e168c8524b/Salmonella_Questions_and_Answers.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
Also read our cooking safety guide on refreezing fish and beef.