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Is Twice-Frozen Game Meat Still Good to Eat?

For years, Jeff Johnston has heard that allowing venison to thaw and then re-freezing it renders the meat inedible. Is it true? He decided to find out.

The Myth
Once you freeze venison (or other meat) it can’t be thawed and then refrozen. I’ve heard this theory for years, so when I get a deer steak out of the freezer, defrost it, then for some reason decide not to cook it, I usually throw it away. But then I started thinking: What could be wrong with it? Does re-freezing take away from the flavor, or does it somehow make it unsafe? So first, I called the experts for clarification. Then I gave it a blind taste test.

Two identical pieces of venison steak were harvested. One was frozen, thawed and cooked while the other was frozen, thawed, re-frozen and re-thawed before cooking. Then the taste test was given.

The Expert Deferral
The USDA says the following: "If raw or cooked food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking or heating, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing."

OK, so it’s safe, but does it taste like Fonzi’s jacket?

The Blind Taste Test
I thawed a package of two, thick-cut steaks taken from a whitetail doe. The two filets were taken from the exact same deer at the same time. They were handled exactly the same, and even packaged and frozen together immediately after they were sliced from the same backstrap. After thoroughly defrosting, I put one in the refrigerator, and one back in the freezer. After it froze solid again, I took it out and defrosted it. Then I cooked the two filets at the same time, in the exact same way. I marked one with a secret grill pattern. Then I had two people eat the filets and record exactly how they tasted.

The Results
One taster could not tell a difference in taste but believed the twice-frozen piece was slightly less tender than the once-frozen piece. The second taster believed that the twice-frozen piece was slightly less flavorful and not as tender. In an attempt to quantify this perception, the second taster said that if the first piece was a 9 on a scale of 1-to-10 in tenderness, the twice-frozen piece was a 7.5.

The Conclusion
While it is perfectly safe to refreeze meat again and again, each time you re-freeze it will probably degrade the flavor and tenderness of the meat slightly. This doesn’t mean that you should throw it away—it is still edible and even delicious—but it may not be as good as it could have been had it been eaten after the first thaw.

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28 Responses to Is Twice-Frozen Game Meat Still Good to Eat?

Bob Palmquist wrote:
February 06, 2015

The reason we freeze game meat, or any other food for that matter is to inhibit the growth of bacteria. If we don’t freeze it, it spoils in a week or two. If we freeze it, it can remain good indefinitely. When food is thawed out, bacteria growth starts immediately. If it’s refrozen, that once again inhibits it’s growth, but not as effectively as if it hadn't been frozen at all. So, when it’s thawed out again, all of the bacteria that grew when it was thawed the first time is growing like gangbusters. It spoils very quickly. Refreezing isn't about taste, it’s about spoilage….

paul heath wrote:
February 06, 2015

great post Ive always cooked it then refroze now i know i don't need to. thanks

Raymond W Pratt wrote:
January 17, 2015

Thanks a lot,very helpful and informative. My wife made a bunch of pasties with ground venison in them, she didn't want to bake them all and she asked me if it would be safe to freeze them.

Scott wrote:
September 12, 2014

Just read the article about Twice-Frozen from your magazine and had to log on to read the results and find this very interesting. I've read many times that if something is frozen, thawed, that you could change the consistency of the meat, then it could be re-frozen. I’m like many that were raised not to freeze, thaw and then refreeze again. Being an avid hunter, my wife, kids and I have been blessed to harvest multiple animals yearly and rely on wild game for food for the year. We would also provide wild game to families as needed but many times we would have a lot of meat in freezer left over from year to year (sad that families that could use the help just refuse to eat wild game…but that is another story). Without this meat possibly ruining over the years or providing deer and elk roasts over three or four years old to a family in need, we would thaw, keep cold, grind into hamburger and then vacuum seal and have healthy food available for another 3-4 years. So don’t waste the wild game that has been in the freezer for over 3-4 years. Wild game can last for a long time if you take care of your harvet. Allow to thaw, then grind into hamburger and enjoy those holiday cook outs. With this research, you have provided input from many where we can enjoy our wild game year after year!!

Richard Rodriquez wrote:
May 12, 2014

Two years ago my freezer burned out and about three days later I noticed it and it was still cold so I put all of it into the other freezer and refroze it and it all tasted good.

Desiree wrote:
May 10, 2014

I read just this week the Rocky Mtn. Elk Foundation recommends you thaw and refreeze meat 3 times.' 2. Wild game can be aged and tenderized later using an alternative process. Remove a package of meat from the freezer and allow it to partially thaw. When the meat is beginning to soften and covered with slushy ice crystals, put a tally mark on the package and refreeze. Then repeat. When a package has three tally marks, it’s ready for cooking.' http://www.rmef.org/NewsandMedia/PressRoom/NewsReleases/10TipsforProcessingYourFirstElk.aspx

Paul Romanoski wrote:
May 03, 2014

I have done this for years and note no difference compared to similar time raw unfrozen. An important tjing to consider though is total time thawed. If you have a piece of game 5 days before butchering then 5 days before freezing then thaw and have in fridge 4 days and refreeze it that meat is 14 days old when you thaw to use next time. It is not the same as a piece that has not been in a thawed state for those 4 days. That one is 4 days fresher and further from spoiling. Total time thawed and hold temp are key safety factors to be mindful of. Freezing doesnt start the clock over, it metely suspends it while frozen and it picks up right where it left off before refreeze. Care for your fish and game properly and do not waste it. You have a responsibility to fully utilize that animal that you harvested.

James Brown wrote:
May 02, 2014

As a victim of the great ice storm up here in Ontario I had the problem of 40 pounds of moose meat that thawed out over the 6 days the power was off. I asked my butcher about a solution and he advised to was the meat off, place it in new freezer bags and then freeze it.

Bill wrote:
May 02, 2014

I have worked in beef packing plants most of my career and have been in meat sales for 40 years. The key to preserving meat is vacuum sealing. Others have made the same point. If handling correctly the only difference will be the moisture content, Frozen meat will purge (plasma loss) during thawing. In commercial processes a large percentage of meat is frozen, thawed, and refrozen. Commercial beef patties is a prime example.

Glen wrote:
April 25, 2014

The U. S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) advises, 'Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion. Freeze leftovers within 3-4 days. Do not refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.

Dennis wrote:
April 25, 2014

To do a correct comparison of once-thawed vs twice-thawed meat, take two identical cuts from same animal, thaw one in the refridgerator and then refreeze it, while leaving the first cut in the freezer the whole time. Then thaw both in the fridge at the same time and cook, taste. They will be very, very close to the same!

Steve Schaeffler wrote:
April 25, 2014

When I get a deer I like to let it hang for about 5days,depending on weather. I have mis calculated overnight temps and had to thaw the deer befor skinning and butchering .i never had a problem with the meat it all tastes great.

Sopchoppy wrote:
April 24, 2014

Vacuum sealing is the key to freezing meat. It will maintain it's quality and taste much better compared to plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper or any combination of the three. Eliminating air from the meat is essential. I have thawed and refrozen meat more than once with no loss of taste or tenderness. One 'trick' I do is fold a paper towel and place in the top of each vacuum bag. It catches the blood before it can be pulled into the sealer tray.

dusanmal wrote:
April 24, 2014

The real key is quality of freezing process (taking obvious account of food safety while defrosted and shaved). Damage is done by slow freezing during which ice crystals have time to grow large within the meat, damaging it internally. Faster the freezing and re-freezing, less damage and better end result. Powerful freezer, direct (through packaging but nothing else) contact with cooling surface, one-by-one item frozen at the time are some useful points. @rattlerjake - vacuum packaging does not help with this, most damaging issue, damage is not external but internal on cellular level. So if you have ability to very quickly freeze or r-freeze meat when you want to do it you may repeat process several times without much quality loss.

Terry Allen wrote:
April 23, 2014

I live in Washington state but archery hunt on my property in North Dakota. To transport deer from ND a CW state it has to be bone out to bring to Washington so I freeze and then take to a local butcher to process. It's unthawed processed then frozen again. I can't tell any quality problem with this procedure.

Montana Jay wrote:
April 22, 2014

If it was really that bad, all the meat harvested in the northern areas would be bad before it hit the freezer. Many times I have my deer and elk frozen before I can get them home and that is on the same day they are killed! Proper food handling will make your food taste the best.

JC wrote:
April 21, 2014

the problems get really bad the longer the food stays in the temperature danger zone 40/45 degrees to 120 degrees don't thaw food on counter only under running cold water or in fridge

Steve C wrote:
March 03, 2014

It is perfectly fine and does not change the flavor or texture. I had to do this with my tenderloins because the packaging place put them both in the same package and they were frozen when I picked them up. Just thaw them in the fridge and keep an eye on them. When they are still partially frozen I was able to separate the meat and repackage in vac-seal bags. There was no bad flavor or weird tenderness difference between the 2 month frozen and the 6 months frozen pieces.

Ed DePue wrote:
February 26, 2014

Many hunters in my area, are quartering their deer and then freezing the quarters. Later after the season is over, thawing and butchering and refreezing. They are not suffering any lost of flavor or tenderness, or any other ill effects. Me I like to completely butcher and process one deer or let it hang\season for awhile before harvesting another. To each his own as long as no meat is wasted.

eagle275 wrote:
February 26, 2014

FoodSaver works great!

Rattlerjake wrote:
February 26, 2014

If the meat is vacuum sealed before freezing, you don't have this problem because the moisture is not removed as with regular freezer packaging.

Baldeagle6 wrote:
February 26, 2014

This may have been said, but if so, I did not pick up on it. Any meat, but particularly lean red meat will benefit from 'aging' (the natural enzymes tenderize and flavor it) in its own juices in the fridge. Therefore, if you have two identical pieces of meat thaw one hold it for three days, thaw the other, refreeze it as soon as it thaws, and then thaw it again allowing no time for it to 'age', it will be less flavorful and tender than the one that was allowed to age. Meat does not age in the freezer. It does in the fridge. When I buy beef steaks, I always age them for several days before marinating and eating or vacuuming sealing and freezing. Everyone comments upon how good they are and think that I must buy prime dry aged meat. I don't, but I get most of the benefits by doing this. Works for any red meat, but is particularly important for game.

Ron wrote:
February 25, 2014

Forgot to say the main SAFE thing is refrigerated thawing. At room temperature bacteria is in there breeding zone (simply put). At dinner ask: What do I/we want tomorrow? Pull it, put in the fridge, and if plans change, it is safe to refreeze.

Ron wrote:
February 25, 2014

Stores get there meat frozen divide it into the one, two pound packing we buy an freeze at home. I think you should o another taste test. Pull one piece to thaw and refreeze. Then pull out the two for the test. What Tim said is true. Think of the longer thaw time basically as a marination in its own juices.

Jim Guercio wrote:
February 25, 2014

Thanks for sharing your experiment. I also have tried to determine weather or not frozen game or domestically harvested meats have the same taste as un frozen. Conclusion- For my tastes- naturally fresh, un frozen are best, unfrosted 'first time' are next but even though moisture has not been lost, flavor and texture seems to be lacking in second freezing and defrosting. However, stews are my decision when in question and adding both moisture and spices per one's preference saves a much treasured harvest . I have found that small amounts of beef suet make all wild game including fowl very excepting. Over cooking is the worst for your game meats.

Wes Thayer wrote:
February 25, 2014

In days of old when we butchered a steer or venizen and took it to the local locker to have it quick froze we took it home and put it in the freezer. Then when we got the meat (any meat) out of the freezer to thaw sometimes we didn't get it ate right away so we put it back in the freezer. Then we took it out again and thawed it out again and put in on the brazer and cooked it up. Couldn't tell any difference and I tell you we never wasted any meat. Now that was over 50 years ago and I'll still alive and kicking and I been on this planet almost 80 years.

Eric Hosfelt wrote:
February 25, 2014

What I do with refrozen game meat is usually marinate it or grind it to a burger consistency. and use it for meals like tacos or burritos. Yumm, elk tacos!

Tim wrote:
February 24, 2014

How long did it take to thaw the second time? The longer thawed meat sits in the fridge the more tender it becomes. If there was a significant time that the once frozen piece sat (which I doubt) it could explain the slight difference in tenderness; yeah, that was a long shot. Thanks, for the article, I've always wondered if the double freezing 'old wives tale' held any merit.