Question: I thawed some frozen chicken breasts for dinner tonight, but now I’ve had a change in plans and don’t have time to cook them. Is it okay if I refreeze them?
Answer: It depends on how you thawed the chicken breasts.
It’s fine to refreeze chicken breasts that have thawed — as long as you thawed them in the refrigerator and kept them there for no more than two days.
If that was the case, you can pop the chicken breasts back into the freezer and they’ll still be safe to eat, says the United States Department of Agriculture.
But keep in mind that thawing and refreezing any food will take a toll on its quality. In the case of your chicken breasts, you’ll likely see some changes in texture and taste after the second thaw. So you might want to opt for using the fillets in a soup, stew or casserole, where it’s okay if the chicken is not quite perfect.
Refreezing is not an option, though, if the chicken wasn’t thawed in the refrigerator to begin with.
If you thawed the chicken breasts in the microwave or in cold water, you should cook them immediately before freezing, says the USDA. That’s because with either method, the chicken could have at least temporarily warmed up to a temperature higher than 40°F. At that point, harmful bacteria can begin to multiply and only further cooking will destroy it; simply refreezing the chicken won’t do the trick.
Finally, if you thawed the chicken breasts on the counter or in hot water, you shouldn’t eat them at all. The USDA cautions that it’s dangerous to eat any meat or poultry that’s been thawed under those two methods, as the outer layer of the food would have been allowed to sit between the bacteria-breeding temperatures of 40° F and 140° F for far too long to be safe.