My Freezer is Off; My Food has Thawed; What do I do now?

By: Brenda C. Williams, Family & Consumer Sciences Agent

If storms have moved through your area and left you without power, then you may be wondering what to do with all that food in your freezer. The ideal thing to do when your freezer goes off is to put a refrigerator/freezer thermometer in the freezer. Then you have a way to monitor the temperature to be sure it stays at least as cold as a refrigerator (40°F) or colder. If you can get dry ice, a 50 pound block will protect solidly frozen food in a full 20-cubic foot freezer for three to four days. If dry ice is not available and/or you do not have a thermometer in the freezer, then the question of safety becomes a bigger issue the longer you are without power.

Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Meat and Poultry
    Re-freeze if the freezer temperature stays 40°F or below and if color and odor are good. Check each package, and discard any that have signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature).
  • Vegetables
    Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present OR if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Discard any packages that show signs of spoilage or that have reached room temperature.
  • Fruits
    Re-freeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams, or preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality.
  • Shellfish and Cooked Foods
    Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present OR the freezer is 40°F or below. If the temperature is above 40°F, throw these foods out.
  • Ice Cream
    If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture of ice cream is not acceptable after thawing. If its temperature rises above 40°F, it could be unsafe.
  • Creamed Foods, Puddings and Cream Pies
    Re-freeze only if freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Discard if the temperature is above 40°F.
  • Breads, Nuts, Doughnuts, Cookies and Cakes
    These foods re-freeze better than most. They can be safely re-frozen if they show no signs of mold growth.

If you are certain that the temperature has remained at least 40°F or colder in your freezer, then a good rule of thumb is that you could use the food within 2 to 3 days…like you would if you had it thawed in your refrigerator. If you refreeze the food, plan to use it more quickly than you would have if it had stayed frozen all along because there will be some loss of quality.

For more information about this and other food safety topics, please contact Brenda C. Williams, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alachua County Extension Office, at (352)955-2402 or call your local County Extension Office.