The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What?

Dear Home-Ec 101,
My youngest decided to get a popsicle from my deep freezer and didn’t bother to make sure the door was closed. I know not to eat the meat products since I am not sure if they thawed and refroze, but what about the veggies? Must I throw out the ten tons of french fries and corn on the cob? (And yes, I’ve invested in a freezer door lock with a padlock to guard against future boo-boos)
Thawing in Thermopylae

freezer door left open

Heather says:

I have good news and bad news, depending on whether or not you’ve already thrown everything out.

All of the food in your freezer is fine to cook or refreeze as long as there were ice crystals still in it. If your meat hasn’t reached more than 40°F it is still safe to cook and eat. Same with your vegetables. If there are still ice crystals it’s perfectly fine to refreeze them as well. What you don’t want to do is reach a point where bacteria can multiply quickly, freeze and not kill off all of those bacteria and then thaw again where the bacteria again have a good chance to multiply.

Just as an FYI, vegetables can also harbor bacteria. However, do not freak out. Contamination is much LESS likely in frozen foods that have to be blanched before freezing. I’m just noting this after someone was rather smug about not being affected by a beef recall.

If your freezer door was left ajar for a few hours and some foods partially thawed, not fully, they are safe to use. I’m actually more concerned about the motor of your freezer. I hope the freezer is the type that shuts off while the door is ajar so there wasn’t a lot of unnecessary wear on the unit. If your deep freeze was left ajar for several days, you are correct, most of the food is a total loss.

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  • If you have a lot of ground beef to use, simply brown it and store. You can season it if you like, just be sure to label it for its intended future use.
  • If you have stew beef, go ahead and brown and stew the beef.
  • Toss the poultry into your slow cooker and then separate it from the bones to use in a bunch of different recipes. Don’t forget to use the bones to make chicken stock.
  • If you have boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs these can be grilled and then frozen for use in any recipe that calls for cooked chicken. 

Good luck, I hope this doesn’t prove to be too major of a loss.

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  1. Phylis Part on July 11, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Freezer was left opened. Shrimp thawed out. Is it safe to boil them and eat them?

  2. PD on September 30, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    What about things like ice cream …the ice cream sandwiches are all soft, do I throw them away? Mine was only left partially open for almost a day…lots of ice crystals in freezer.

  3. Lisa on January 20, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    I have a similar issue. I have a refrigerator in the garage. For some reason, when the outside temperature is very low, the freezer does not operate properly (it refrigerates fine, though) and veggies and frozen potatoes get soft. Is it safe to cook and eat these? If not, what is the specific risk?

  4. Maryann on August 31, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I put meat fish and chicken in freezer they were not froxen.the freezer door was left open is food still good

  5. Karkel on September 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    So food that has already been cooked , like popcorn shrimp,or sauage biscuits,that are already cook and you just heat up should be ok to refreeze ? They were still cool to the touch . Thanks

    • HeatherSolos on September 23, 2011 at 10:04 am

      @Karkel *Technically* you want to cook things before refreezing. You’re also losing a lot of quality the more times the food is heated and frozen, too.1

  6. HeatherSolos on June 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Rosie, that is an excellent suggestion, thank you.

  7. Rosie on June 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    If your freezer food thaws out and then secretly refreezes, you can't easily tell if that's happened. Here is my low-tech hint: put a handful of ice-cubes in a ziplock bag and keep that in your freezer.

    If the door is left ajar and the freezer thaws, the ice in the bag will melt. Then when it refreezes you won't have cubes in that bag any more, you will have a flat lump of ice if it all got seriously thawed out. Then you can decide what to do with the food in there as a result.
    My recent post HomeRoutines 183 Released

    • caroline on June 8, 2011 at 10:41 am

      I recently had an issue where my fridge/freezer stopped working and I did not realize it. What actually clued me in was when I took an ice cream bar out and it was soft, but by the repairman came it was working again and everything had refrozen. The repairman recommended this ice trick to tell in the future if the freezer has gone off and then back on again.

    • E on October 5, 2015 at 11:56 am

      That’s genius! I did not think of that!

  8. Keter Magick on June 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I lost a freezer full of food last year when somehow the cord got disconnected. I'm guessing the cat managed to get behind it and tried to jump to the top from back there and knocked the plug loose; nothing else makes the least bit of sense. The seal on the lid (chest-style) was good, and since all the food was in plastic containers, nothing leaked out to signal trouble, just the barest whiff of odor every now and again. I kept taking the trash out, thinking the trash was smelly…by the time I realized it was the freezer, I had a major disaster on my hands! The freezer was less than a year old, so scrapping it wasn't an attractive option. It took six months to get the smell out (many alternating changes of vinegar and baking soda) and fit to use again.

    I recently put the freezer back into use and it's working fine. The plug is screwed to the wall. But since the over-temperature alarm won't sound if the power is out, I realized I need an alarm that can't be defeated by, say, a tripped breaker (not an unusual event in my house…but that's another story). I have an old uninterruptible power supply (UPS) sitting around that just needs a new battery, and this weekend's project will be to buy that battery and mount the UPS behind the freezer and give it a small load to keep it active (it won't care if the power is off unless it has a load on it). I'm thinking about plugging the coffee pot into it, since the coffee pot has a clock that is always on. I think I'll put my LED cabinet lights on it, too, for an easy source of light in the kitchen if the power goes out at night (these aren't on all the time, so can't serve as a reliable load).

    The UPS will be on the same circuit as the freezer, and while it's nowhere near big enough to run the freezer, it will scream bloody murder if the power goes out and keep screaming until the power is back on or I turn the alarm off. In any case, there's no way that freezer is going to thaw again without my knowing it!

  9. Jenny King on June 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    My mom always felt like our deep freeze was like a savings account full of treasure. In other words, worth taking care of, not neglecting.
    Since we had an older, hand-me-down freezer she felt the need to "keep an eye on it" in case the motor quit. She instituted the rule that it must be checked every day. She made sure to tell someone each day to check it or she checked it herself. We averted several disasters that way.
    The once or twice my kids left our freezer door ajar, I found that most of the foods at the back of the freezer hadn't thawed all that much so I just refroze them and never could tell the difference. The stuff that was toward the front and on the door, we just cooked up and refroze. Even for the veggies, we blanched them again and refroze. (except for potato products – those we made a big pot of potato chowder and scalloped potatoes. The baked scalloped potatoes freeze well but the chowder was just eaten up).
    Another thing I learned over the years, arrange your freezer so the foods are less vulnerable. For instance, our freezer is upright and the stuff on the door thaws first. That being the case, we only store "wet" things on the door like broths, spaghetti sauce, beans, nopales, soups. That way, should they thaw by accident, we just need to heat to boiling for a few minutes and then we can refreeze.

    • HeatherSolos on June 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      Great advice, Jenny.
      The main reason I dread hurricane season around here is the potential to lose everything I store in the deep freeze. Everything else, I can deal with all the food in that freezer represents money and hard work.

      • casey on June 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

        Make sure you keep a list – your flood insurance should cover most of the financial cost – you do have flood insurance right?

        • casey on June 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

          although of course the time spent cooking & preparing the foods (if that's what you have in there) can't be replaced.

  10. Anne Marie Altman on June 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

    It's true, this site is a wealth of knowledge for those of us who find keeping house a daily struggle. Every day I read this blog I feel encouraged and wiser!

  11. casey on June 7, 2011 at 9:36 am

    My parents had a similiar issue recently, unfortunately it was a week later that they discovered the door open so pretty much everything was a total loss.

  12. Melanie Nelson on June 7, 2011 at 9:24 am

    See? This is exactly the kind of stuff that people generally don't know. I certainly didn't. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your wealth of knowledge. I learn something new here every day!
    My recent post How do I get rid of a Facebook virus

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