Freezing chicken you’re unable to use right away is a great way to minimize food waste.

Doing so preserves the meat by preventing the growth of microorganisms like bacteria, yeasts, and molds (1).

However, you may wonder whether chicken can be refrozen after it has been thawed.

This article discusses how to safely refreeze chicken, plus tips for storage and maintaining its quality.

Guidelines for refreezing chicken

The bacteria commonly found on chicken — such as Salmonella — can cause serious illness and potentially death (2).

While freezing significantly slows microbial growth, it does not kill most foodborne pathogens. Therefore, properly handling chicken prior to refreezing is important (3).

For starters, consider whether the chicken was properly thawed.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are three safe thawing methods (4):

  • Refrigeration. Though it may take 1–2 days, the safest way to thaw chicken is in a refrigerator at or below 40°F (4.4°C).
  • Cold water. In leak-proof packaging, submerge the chicken in cold water. Replace the water every 30 minutes.
  • Microwave. In a microwave-safe dish, heat the chicken using the defrost setting. Rotate to ensure an even thaw.

Importantly, defrosting under cold water or in a microwave allows some harmful bacteria to grow. If you use these methods, cook the chicken before refreezing it (5).

Never defrost chicken on your countertop. Since bacteria thrive at room temperature, this chicken should not be used, let alone refrozen.

According to USDA guidelines on refrigeration and food safety, raw chicken can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, while cooked chicken can be kept for 3–4 days (6).

You can safely refreeze raw and cooked chicken within their respective shelf lives. Still, only refreeze raw chicken that has been thawed in the refrigerator.

Summary

When handled properly, it’s safe to refreeze raw and cooked chicken within their respective shelf lives. Only refreeze raw chicken that has been thawed in the refrigerator.

Tips for refreezing and storage

In terms of safety, chicken can be stored in the freezer indefinitely.

However, refreezing can affect its taste and texture. Here are some tips to maximize freshness (7, 8):

  • Refreeze at peak quality. For the best taste, try to refreeze chicken as soon as possible. Raw chicken that has been thawed longer than 2 days, as well as cooked chicken stored longer than 4 days, may have spoiled, so don’t refreeze it.
  • Store at or below 0°F (-18°C). To help retain quality and prevent spoilage, keep frozen chicken stored at or below 0°F (-18°C).
  • Freeze chicken quickly. Slow freezing can cause large ice crystals to form. These may damage the structure of the meat, leaving it tough and dry. Freezing chicken in a shallow container can help speed the process.
  • Use air-tight packaging. Sealing chicken tightly can help prevent freezer burn caused by prolonged exposure to air. Freezer burn can negatively affect taste, texture, and color.

When stored properly, refrozen raw chicken can maintain its quality for 9–12 months, while cooked chicken lasts 4 months (7).

Summary

Chicken remains safe in the freezer indefinitely, but its taste may be affected. For the best quality, refreeze chicken as soon as possible in air-tight packaging at or below 0°F (-18°C) and use it within 4–12 months.

The bottom line

Whether you can refreeze poultry depends on whether it was safely defrosted, if it’s raw or cooked, and how long it has been thawed.

When handled properly, raw chicken can be refrozen within 2 days after thawing, while cooked chicken can be refrozen within 4 days.

For quality purposes, the sooner you refreeze chicken, the better.

Only refreeze raw chicken that has been thawed in the refrigerator.