Oh no, my freezer is out!

Food in freezer
Food in freezer

Freezer failure can happen at any time due to mechanical problems, power failures, or human error. Regardless of cause, freezer failure means the loss of all or part of a large investment in food, time and money.

When you discover that the freezer is not working, it is important to determine why it is no longer working. Has the door been left open? A blown fuse, a broken electrical circuit or an accidental disconnection? Is the freezer over packed or full of frost build up? Has there been a power failure or did the unit simply die? In any of these cases, normal operation should be restored as quickly as possible and the food checked for thawing.

If the freezer outage is due to a power outage you will want to do what you can to keep all the food from thawing. If the outage is not expected to be more than 12-24 hours, avoid opening the freezer and cover with blankets or quilts. If a longer outage is expected, the food should be moved to a locker or taken to a working freezer (friends and neighbors), if available. Move food as quickly as possible using insulated boxes or cooler chests. Purchased dry ice or packaged ice can be added to help keep the contents cold for a longer period. If dry ice is used, handle it carefully and get usable sizes. Don’t open the freezer again until you need to replace the dry ice or until the freezer is working again. (For more tips on using dry ice, see If Your Home Freezer Stops.) If the freezer is in need of a repair or has died, the same guidelines for moving food or adding dry ice may save the food until a repair person arrives or a new unit is purchased.

Once the freezer is working or is replaced, check to see if the contents are still completely frozen or partially frozen. It is possible to refreeze many foods that have completely thawed if you are absolutely certain that they have been kept at a temperature lower than 40°F for no longer than two days (about normal refrigerator temperature). Refreezing food must be done quickly. It is best to set the temperature control to the coldest setting and once the food is solid again, return the setting to maintain 0°F or lower. Since refreezing may affect the quality of the food, it is a good idea to mark the refrozen food and use it as quickly as possible.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Oregon State University have guidance on what to do with thawed foods. Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded.

  • 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 if signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor are present. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature). Refrozen meat should be used within three to four weeks and cooked to 165°F before eating. The same is true for refrozen sausage, bacon and other processed meats. Refrozen meats will probably be drier than other frozen meat.
  • Vegetables: Be careful with blanched or cooked vegetables. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in them. It may be impossible to tell by their odor whether they have started to spoil. Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Vegetables should be immediately refrozen if they still have ice crystals. 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. However, fruits and fruit products are likely to ferment after they have thawed and been held at temperatures above 45°F. This doesn’t make them harmful, but it will change their flavor. They may be used in cooking or baking or for making jams, jellies and preserves.
  • 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, discard as bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods.
  • 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. The same is true for creamed foods and puddings.
  • 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. Refreezing will likely result in some loss of moisture.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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