Help! I Am Having a Freezer Emergency!

Good Questions

Q: Help! I am having a freezer emergency! Sometime within the last 24 hours our freezer broke and it has warmed enough to melt the ice in the ice drawer. The thermometer says it's 43 degrees in there. How do I know if the food has gone bad and if I can refreeze it once the freezer is fixed? They will hopefully fix it tonight. I hate to lose so much food.

Sent by Sara

Editor: Sara, I'm so sorry that happened. It's a real pain to deal with a non-functioning refrigerator or freezer. Here are a few tips from the USDA's freezer safety fact sheet.

• The food may still be safe if ice crystals still remain.
• A freezer full of food will usually keep for 2 days if the door is kept shut. If the freezer is half full it will keep for about a day.
• Discard foods that have been warmer than 40°F for more than 2 hours. Discard any foods that have been contaminated by raw meat juices.
• See more: Freezing and Food Safety at USDA

Personally, having dealt with this very issue several times during power outages, I make judgment calls on safety. If meat has thawed, but is still quite cold, I move it to the fridge to keep cold, and then cook it that day. If other things that will be cooked later have thawed (frozen potatoes, berries) I just refreeze them and hope that their quality hasn't been degraded too much. I do throw out cooked food like leftover cooked chicken or stews.

Those are my own personal ways of dealing with this sort of thing, but you should read the USDA guidelines, take stock of your freezer, and make your own calls on the food in there.. Readers, any particular advice or help for Sara?

Related: What Are Essential Pantry Items for the Freezer?

(Image: Alice via email)

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