Can you refreeze fish safely? The short answer is that it depends: You can almost always refreeze fish, if you know the right way to do it — and a lot of it comes down to how you defrosted it in the first place.
Knowing how to refreeze fish safely and properly can be a culinary lifeline when you’ve got fish in the refrigerator that you know you’re not going to be able to cook over the next few days — perhaps you defrosted a couple fillets but made other dinner plans, or maybe you have more portions of fish than you can possibly enjoy before it starts turning on you.
But before we walk you through the best way to refreeze any fish you have in your fridge right now, let’s go through some critical Dos and Don’ts.
Yes, you can refreeze cooked or raw fish that was thawed in the refrigerator.
As per the USDA’s guidance, it’s safe to refreeze any food that has been thawed in the refrigerator (assuming it hasn’t spoiled before putting it back into your freezer, of course). As long as the protein has consistently maintained a refrigerator-like temperature where it’s been cold to the touch — meaning, it hasn’t at any point gotten warm enough for bacteria to proliferate — it can be refrozen without any issues.
This applies to seafood that’s still raw as well as seafood that’s been cooked. Did your friends take a rain check on a dinner date? Wrap those halibut steaks back up to use for dinner next weekend instead. Can you refreeze salmon curry, if you made too much of it? Pour the excess into freezer safe containers to enjoy another time.
You can definitely refreeze partially thawed items, too.
It probably goes without saying, but you can refreeze items that have only been partially defrosted, too.
Want to cook up some weathervane scallops, but don’t need to use the entire pack of them? Simply defrost them a little bit in the refrigerator until the pack has thawed just enough to crack apart, then seal the unused portion in a freezer-safe bag and stash in your freezer for later use. You can also do this with something like our Captain’s Cuts, if you know that you really only want to use a small portion today — defrost the fillets in the refrigerator until they’re thawed enough that you can separate them, then wrap the unused portion and store it in the freezer for another time.
Do NOT refreeze seafood that you’ve quick-thawed in the sink.
When you quick-thaw seafood properly in the sink, you absolutely should not put it back in the freezer. In fact, you shouldn’t even put it back in the refrigerator to use for another day. Quick-thawed proteins ought to be cooked as soon as they are defrosted.
There’s a good reason for this. Chances are that if you’ve quickly thawed your fish in cool water rather than overnight in the refrigerator, the protein has been brought to a temperature that supports bacterial growth. Don’t think that your freezer will destroy these pathogens: Freezers can slow bacterial growth, but they do not actually kill bacteria. The only way to destroy any pathogens in the fish that may cause foodborne illness is to cook it through to 145 degrees.
Notes on Refreezing and its Impact on Quality
To summarize: Can you refreeze thawed fish safely? Yes, if it was thawed safely.
But let’s consider if you’d even want to refreeze fish. One thing to keep in mind is that thawing and refreezing fish impacts its quality. The question is whether this impact is negligible or noticeable to you.
There will always be some loss of moisture when ice crystals form and melt, leaving the seafood a little less succulent each time and damaging the texture of the protein itself. The less efficient the freezing process — in other words, the longer it takes for seafood to freeze — the more the product will suffer as a result. That’s why flash freezing is so critical in the process of getting fresh, high-quality product to your doorstep.
Even good purveyors of high-quality seafood typically thaw and refreeze fish at least once before it reaches you. Fresh fish needs to be flash frozen shortly after being caught in order to maintain the fish at peak quality, then it’s defrosted so that it can be processed and packaged for consumers before being flash frozen again. If this thawing and refreezing process is done right, you’ll be getting amazing fish every time.
How to Refreeze Fish Like a Pro
Most of us don’t have access to a flash freezer, but we can use some common sense food storage measures to get our food to freeze as efficiently as possible at home.
Try to refreeze your fish as soon as possible, since each day that passes can diminish the freshness of any fish. If the fish is cooked, allow the fish to cool to room temperature (or even cool it in the refrigerator) before moving it to the freezer. If it’s in the refrigerator now, it’s ready to be wrapped up and refrozen.
The fastest way to freeze your fish is to create as much surface area as possible while you’re packaging them up in freezer bags or a freezer-safe container. For fillets, wrap them up in plastic (or vacuum-sealed packaging, if you have a Foodsaver) and store them in a freezer bag in a single layer until they have completely frozen through. You basically want there to be plenty of space surrounding the fish for cold air to circulate. After the fish has frozen, you can stack and store it as you like.
We suggest using refrozen fish sooner rather than later as it’ll be more susceptible to freezer burn, no matter how well you’ve wrapped and stored it at home. You may defrost and refreeze your fish again, if need be, but we highly discourage this as it’s quality will suffer significantly.