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Ack! Freezer was left open!

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14 replies to this topic

#1 abadoozy

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 05:52 AM

We discovered last night that our stand-up freezer, full to the gills with homemade stock, sausages, and various meats, was left slightly open for (as far as we can tell) about 20 hours. It wasn't gaping - in fact, you couldn't even tell it was open by looking - but it was definitely not closed tight when someone opened it the night before.

Most of the stuff in it was not thawed, but some definitely was. The things in the door - frozen berries and ice packs - were the worst. The berries were thawed, but not warm. There were chunks of ice in the middle of some of them. Some of the ice packs (those white things filled with some sort of gel that you get when you order seafood or other things that are shipped frozen) were starting to thaw.

In the freezer itself, the worst hit was the stuff right by the door. Packages of fresh sausages were thawed, but still cold. Same with some of the stocks - they were somewhat liquidy, but not totally thaw, and not warm.

The stuff farther in, towards the back of the freezer, was still thoroughly frozen.

We closed up the freezer and it's coming back. It's old, so not especially efficient. But what do we do with the stuff? Does everything get tossed? Toss the stuff that thawed? I realize that thawing and refreezing may affect the texture, but I can live with that. I want to know if this stuff is unsafe.

Consulting Modernist Cuisine, almost all food born bacteria doesn't reach the danger zone where it multiplies rapidly until it hits 80 degrees or so, and even then it takes 15-20 hours to really start getting bad. It never got anywhere near that - I'm going to estimate 45 or 50 for a few hours at the most.

I'm thinking that the stuff that's still frozen is safe. Non-meat stuff that thawed, I'll either toss or (in the case of the blueberries) make a pie today or tomorrow. Meat that thawed that will not be thoroughly cooked, like steaks, I'll throw. But what of the stuff that *will* be cooked thoroughly, like the sausages? God I hate to lose them... but at the same time, I don't want to get sick!

What about stocks? They'll definitely be cooked thoroughly if used.

<sigh> So depressing...

#2 the old cook

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 05:57 AM

I was always taught that if it still had ice crystals in it, it was okay to refreeze....meat that is cold, could be cooked, is not going to hurt you if it was still cold. I may be proved wrong by someone else on here; but it would seem a shame to toss steaks if they are still good. :sad:

#3 weinoo

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 06:11 AM

Anything that you have the least bit of doubt about, throw it away.
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#4 abadoozy

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 06:18 AM

Anything that you have the least bit of doubt about, throw it away.

I'm looking for something a little more fact-based than this; I can doubt a whole lot, but my doubts have very little basis in fact. It'd be really easy to throw away every last bit of food in the freezer because obviously it's been compromised, but I'd like to at least have some proof that it's necessary before doing so.

#5 thock

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 06:28 AM

Your most likely situation is going to be reduced textural quality, especially with the fruit. I think it's a good idea to use the fruit up in a pie, or something.

I'm not sure that it would be necessary to toss the steaks, as long as they are still below 40 F, but use your own judgement on that. If it were me, I'd probably cook the steaks up and refreeze, or cut them into strips or chunks and cook and refreeze for ingredients, or something like that.

Another thing you might want to do, which I have found helpful after experiencing this myself a few times, is to get both a freezer thermometer with an alarm, such as this one, which I LOVE. I also got a child-safety strap for the door of the freezer at Target.

Edited to add: If you have pressure canning equipment, or can borrow some, it might be a good time to can those stocks. Once I started canning stocks, I had a bunch of room left in the freezer that I could put to use for more expensive items. You could also pressure can the meats, if you choose to use them as ingredients, rather than keeping them for their original purpose.

Edited by thock, 02 August 2011 - 06:31 AM.

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#6 annabelle

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 07:53 AM

I'm with Mitch: When in doubt, throw it out.

#7 weinoo

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 07:54 AM

The fact is, if you get sick, it's gonna suck.
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#8 Lisa Shock

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 08:08 AM

I agree that your most concerning issue is textural. The items started out frozen and stayed cold, so, I don't think there's a big foodborne illness issue here.

The steaks are probably one of the safest items, because of their lack of processing they tend to not be contaminated like ground beef. That said, refreezing will affect the texture. Remember, each time you freeze, ice crystals form and they cut up cell structures like little knives. Thawing and refreezing creates new crystals in slightly different places that damage the meat further. Eat as much of these as possible, thawed, now.

Any meat you refreeze will have a much greater tendency towards freezer burn, as there will be more water released from damaged cells. Even things like sausage won't be as good refrozen. I'd take a look at making foods that you can freeze once cooked from some of those meats, as suggested above. (stew, cassoulet, etc.)

Refreezing delicate items with (formerly) intact cell walls repeatedly will just turn them into soupy mush -berries especially. The berries are fine and safe to eat, just know that they will be very soupy when thawed and might be better in a sorbet, smoothie, jam or pie.

The stock should be fine, maybe you'd want to heat it through before refreezing.

In a restaurant, you have a 4 hour window to get room temperature food into the walk-in (fridge) and since this stuff started out frozen and stayed cold, I think that you're ok from a safety standpoint.

Edited by Lisa Shock, 02 August 2011 - 08:23 AM.

#9 Dakki

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 08:28 AM

With Lisa.

I'd just eat whatever thawed right away.
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#10 SylviaLovegren

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 08:32 AM

The berries would probably be fine, just not very appetizing except cooked.

I'd worry most about the sausages. But why not cook them up in some sauce and then freeze the sauce?

#11 sparrowgrass

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 11:24 AM

If you scroll down on this USDA fact sheet, you can get their recommendations.

Freezer Safety

Like others have said, quality suffers, but if the stuff was fridge temperature when you caught it, you are ok to refreeze. Mark the stuff that was thawed and use it as soon as you can.

#12 Paul Bacino

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 12:09 PM

I know this sounds wierd, but I put a bar clamp on my older freezer for just that reason.


No accidental opens and I know it will stay closed.

Good luck
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#13 andiesenji

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 01:25 PM

My upright freezer has a keyed lock and I lock it. Not that I worry that things are going to go missing but in the '94 earthquake the freezer door opened when stuff inside shifted and hit the door.

If yours doesn't have a lock, glue a wide Velcro strap to the DOOR and the base or hook portion on the side. (I did this long ago with a fridge to keep my dogs from opening it.)

The strap hanging down will remind you to close and secure the door. This is an inexpensive and easy way to save your food and your money.

Edited by andiesenji, 02 August 2011 - 01:25 PM.

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#14 Tri2Cook

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 03:16 PM

Based strictly on what you posted, I'd eat anything you mentioned. Why would 40F food in the freezer be any less safe than 40F food in the fridge? I realize there's nothing scientific about my reply... I'm saying what I would do, not telling you what you should do. I'm strict about food safety regulations at work, at home for myself I use my own judgement. "When in doubt, throw it out" is fine as a guideline but it doesn't really sound like you're in doubt to me. It sounds more like you want some confirmation that you're not wrong in thinking it's okay. With nothing to go on except what you've told us, I'd agree with you. I don't think you'll get anybody that wasn't there to tell you everything is definitely beyond any doubt okay.
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#15 Kouign Aman

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Posted 02 August 2011 - 04:14 PM

I agree: if it would be safe in the fridge at that temp, starting from warm, then its safer in the freezer at that temp, starting from frozen.
If you want, you can calibrate your sense of cold as in 'cold to the touch' by checking temp of your fridge and how those things feel.

Think of it as an excuse to eat a lot of stuff that would otherwise sit in the freezer.
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