What to do with Food When Defrosting Freezer

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By Elizabeth Masterman

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s a job many of us dread: Defrosting the freezer. It can be a logistical nightmare! Most of us rely on our freezers and it’s rare for them to be completely empty, so what do you do with the frozen food while you defrost your freezer?

How Should You Store Food When Defrosting the Freezer?

Try to plan and defrost your freezer when there isn’t much in it, or plan to use up what’s in there in the preceding days. If you do need to store some frozen food while you defrost the freezer, options include a neighbour’s freezer, your fridge, cool boxes or even wrapped in newspaper and tightly packed in cardboard boxes.

What Should You Do When Planning to Defrost a Freezer?

The best thing to do is to use up everything in your freezer if you can. Have a sort-through, make a list of everything that’s in there, and plan your meals to use up as much as you can.

This is also a good opportunity to throw away anything that’s been in there too long or anything you know you are unlikely to use.

If there will still be food left in your freezer, it’s a good idea to ask neighbours or local friends and family if they have space in their freezers to store some items for you while you get the job done.

If the answer is no, and you have a lot to store, ask them if they have any cool boxes and ice packs you can borrow.

If you haven’t already got any yourself, it is worth investing in one or two cool boxes and several ice packs. They are great for camping trips, family days out or keeping drinks cool at a party.

What Are the Options for Storing Food While Defrosting a Freezer?

If you can’t put items in someone else’s freezer, then all is not lost:

Use Your Fridge

You could put some items in your fridge if there’s space.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security; the fridge won’t keep the items frozen, it will just slow down the thawing process, so you still need to get the freezer defrosted as quickly as you can.

Use Cool Boxes and Ice Packs

The next best option is to use cool boxes and ice packs. Pack items closely together and make sure ice packs are evenly distributed. Put vulnerable items such as fish and meat towards the bottom where it will be coldest.

Ensure lids are placed tightly on cool boxes and keep them in the coldest part of the house, away from sunlight or radiators.

If you have a garage, you may find it’s cooler in there, or you could even pop the cool boxes outside if it’s cold out, though make sure that they are in shade.

Make an Ice Bath

Another option is an ice bath. This needs planning ahead of time, as you will need to make or buy plenty of ice. An ice bath can be made in a plastic crate, a bucket or even the kitchen sink.

Just fill it up with water and add plenty of ice. Obviously, this is only an option for waterproof items, like Tupperware boxes.

Wrap in Newspaper

If you’ve no other option, you can wrap the items in layers of newspaper to help insulate them and place them in plastic crates or cardboard boxes.

Pack items tightly together, with ice packs distributed evenly throughout the boxes and place the boxes in a cold place.

How Long Will Frozen Food Last in the Fridge?

We are advised that the best way to thaw frozen foods is to place them in the fridge, so if you do this regularly, you will already have some idea of how long it takes for things to defrost.

It usually takes about 24 hours for smaller items, such as a pack of minced beef or a pair of chicken breasts, to defrost. For larger items, like a whole turkey or a leg of lamb, it will take around 24 hours per 2.25kg.

Therefore your frozen items should stay frozen while you defrost your freezer, particularly if you use one of the methods to speed up the process, such as placing bowls of hot water inside the freezer or carefully using a hairdryer to melt the ice.

Hairdryer in the Freezer to Defrost It

When you’ve finished defrosting your freezer, check the items in your fridge over carefully and if there are any signs that they have started to defrost, it is best to use those items as soon as possible, certainly within the next two days and don’t refreeze them. 

Can You Defrost a Freezer with Food in It?

It isn’t possible to safely defrost your freezer with food still inside, because you will have to switch the freezer off and you will have the door open, causing the temperature inside the appliance to drop.

Freezers need to be kept at around -18°C to stop bacteria and mould from multiplying.

Freezing food does not kill bacteria, it simply stops it from multiplying, so as food starts to defrost, bacteria can start to multiply.

Food Safety Advice to Be Aware of

Frozen food that has been defrosted should not be frozen again as this increases the risk of food poisoning.

If any of the food has been defrosted, even partially, while you have been defrosting your freezer, it will need to be used as soon as possible.

The Food Standards Agency recommends that food that has been defrosted can be stored in the fridge for up to two days before it needs to be cooked or thrown away.

For raw ingredients, such as meat or fish, if you then cook the item, either on its own or as part of a meal, it can then be refrozen safely. 

Want to know more about storing food when defrosting your freezer? Check these out:

Can You Put Food Straight Back into a Freezer After Defrosting?

After defrosting your freezer, it’s a good idea to wait 20 to 30 minutes before putting your frozen foods back inside. This allows the freezer to make a start on getting back to the optimum temperature, so there won’t be any risk to your food.

When Do You Put Food Back In the Freeze After Defrosting?

Once you have defrosted the freezer, it’s a good idea to wait around 30 minutes for the freezer to return to its operating temperature.

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