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Can You Refreeze Cooked Chicken? Or Avoid Refreezing Chicken

Norah Clark
Roast chicken on a chopping board

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, Editor of Boyd Hampers! Norah is a seasoned food writer with over a decade of experience in hospitality as a former pastry chef, sous chef, and barista; former chef at the Savoy Hotel, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Plaza Hotel.

You can refreeze cooked chicken with proper handling. Raw chicken can be safely refrozen within 2 days of thawing, while cooked chicken can be refrozen within 4 days. To ensure optimal quality, it’s best to refreeze the chicken as soon as possible. You should only refreeze raw chicken that has been thawed in the refrigerator.

There’s a chance you have leftover rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken breasts from dinner that you’d like to freeze for future use.

Storing cooked chicken in the freezer after cooling is acceptable. However, if you defrost cooked chicken, consume some, and have leftovers, can you freeze the cooked chicken again?

The answer to this question depends on how you freeze and defrost the chicken.

So, why should you be cautious about refreezing cooked chicken? Refreezing not only increases bacteria growth risk but also affects the chicken’s quality.

Ice crystals formed during freezing break down the cell walls of frozen food items, turning them into an unappetizing, mushy substance.

To understand if it’s safe to refreeze chicken, consider the following points.

Should You Refreeze Cooked Chicken

Refreezing chicken can significantly alter its texture and taste.

Chicken that is cooked, frozen, thawed, and refrozen may become tough and chewy, lacking its original flavor.

Although not a health risk, this could be unappealing to those who prefer tender, juicy chicken. With proper storage conditions, chicken can be safely refrozen.

A major concern when refreezing chicken is increased bacterial growth. While freezing halts bacterial growth, it doesn’t eliminate bacteria.

If chicken is heated and thawed below 40°F, bacteria can multiply on the chicken, potentially causing foodborne illnesses.

Foodborne bacteria can always pose a risk. However, if the food is handled properly, the bacteria count on the chicken carcass can be reduced to a safe level, allowing the body to combat them.

Refreezing Cooked and Fried Chicken

To safely refreeze cooked chicken, ensure you properly thaw the cooked chicken the first time.

When thawing cooked chicken, defrost it in the fridge, letting it defrost slowly and at a safe temperature.

This method ensures the temperature doesn’t exceed 40°F, making it safe to refreeze.

Avoid refreezing chicken thawed in hot water or using a microwave’s defrost function. It is highly likely that the chicken was exposed to heat, allowing bacteria growth and increasing the risk of illness from consuming refrozen chicken.

Although it’s not guaranteed you’ll get sick from thawing chicken in warm water or using a microwave and then refreezing, it does increase the risk, and you should weigh the benefits against potential hazards.

Cooking Refrozen Chicken

Leftover chicken that has been frozen and kept below 40°F can be safely reused.

Follow these steps to safely store and reuse frozen leftover chicken:

  1. Store chicken in the fridge until ready to refreeze, but don’t leave it for more than a day.
  2. Divide leftover chicken into smaller portions for easy freezing and future consumption.
  3. Slowly refreeze the chicken in the fridge overnight, ensuring it doesn’t reach bacteria-friendly temperatures before cooking.
  4. When reheating, maintain a temperature of 160°F for at least 2 minutes, ensuring thorough heating and killing any heat-sensitive bacteria.
  5. Consume refrozen and thawed chicken within 24 hours of defrosting.
  6. Remove cooked chicken from the freezer only if you plan to use it within an hour.
Roasting full chicken. Credit: Unsplash
Roasting full chicken. Credit: Unsplash

How to Safely Refreeze Cooked Chicken

Exercise caution when refreezing cooked chicken, ensuring it’s safely stored in the freezer.

Use freezer-safe, airtight bags or containers with tight seals.

Place the leftover chicken in the freezer immediately after refrigeration and avoid leaving it at room temperature. Quickly reducing the temperature minimizes contamination risks.

When stored properly, chicken can be kept in freezer storage for up to four months. After that, its quality, texture, and flavor may deteriorate and even suffer freezer burn. While safe to eat, it won’t be as enjoyable to consume.

Below are some examples of cooked chicken dishes that are freezer-safe, and others that aren’t:

  1. Chicken Noodle Soup: Chicken noodle soup is safe to freeze, as are soups without cream or potatoes.
  2. Chicken Salad: Freezing chicken salad, especially with mayonnaise dressing, isn’t recommended. The mayonnaise may separate, resulting in an unpleasant texture. Salad ingredients can also become mushy when frozen, making the dish unappetizing.
  3. Chicken and Dumplings: Chicken and dumplings can be stored in freezer-safe containers. Leave some space in the bags or containers, as the dish may expand slightly. To preserve the shape and texture of dumplings, freeze them separately.
  4. Fried Chicken: Fried chicken can be safely frozen in an airtight freezer container. For more information on storing fried chicken, read this post.
  5. Chicken Breasts: Chicken breasts are great for freezing. Place them together in a freezer bag or container, or freeze them individually in smaller portions.

FAQs

Can you defrost chicken and put it back in the refrigerator?

Defrosted chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days before it needs to be cooked. However, if you thawed the chicken using a microwave or by boiling it, it should be cooked immediately.

How many times can you reheat chicken?

You should only reheat chicken once after cooking. While it’s possible to reheat it more than once, it’s not recommended, as it increases the risk of food poisoning.

Can I defrost chicken and then thaw it in the sink?

Thawing chicken in the sink is acceptable if you plan to use it immediately and discard any leftovers. To thaw chicken in the sink, fill the sink with cold water, place the chicken in an airtight plastic bag, and immerse it in the water. Leave it to defrost for a while. Refreezing chicken thawed this way is not recommended due to the risk of bacterial growth.

Summary

It’s acceptable to store cooked chicken in the freezer, as long as it’s handled and stored carefully. Cooked chicken can be frozen after refrigeration and defrosting, as long as it doesn’t exceed 40°F.

Be cautious when refreezing cooked chicken and enjoy your leftovers safely.

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