Refreezing salmon. You know you want to. But before you do, here’s how to tell if you can.
Can you refreeze salmon safely? The short answer is yes, but only under certain conditions.
The rule of thumb is that you can refreeze salmon, whether raw or cooked. But you can only do so if you thawed it out safely and stored it properly.
To make a long story short, the salmon shouldn’t have sat out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours, in the fridge for more than 1-2 days when raw, or in the fridge for more than 3-4 days when cooked.
It Comes Down to Food Safety
Whether salmon can be refrozen or not is a matter of food safety.
The bacteria that cause food poisoning—called “pathogens”—thrive at room temperature, multiply slowly in the fridge, and go into a state of full pause in the freezer. So salmon keeps indefinitely in the freezer, for a few days in the fridge, and for a few hours on the counter.
People think that freezing kills germs and bacteria, but this is wrong.
Freezing food to 0°F (-18°C) temporarily inactivates the germs and bacteria that sicken us. As soon as you remove the food from the fridge, its temperature rises. The pathogens inside it become active again, and they begin to multiply.
So the key to safely refreezing salmon is to have thawed it right in the first place.
How to Thaw Salmon
There are three ways to thaw salmon:
- In the fridge
- In a bowl of ice water
- On the “defrost” setting in the microwave
Thawing salmon in the fridge:
To thaw salmon in the fridge, remove it from the freezer, place it on a baking sheet on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator, and leave it there overnight.
The baking sheet is there to catch the juices that inevitably drip from the fish. The lowest shelf above the crisper drawer is best for storing meats and fish because that’s where it’s coldest.
Cook the salmon within 48 hours after moving it to the fridge.
Thawing salmon in a bowl of ice water:
To thaw salmon in a bowl of ice water, seal the salmon in a ziplock bag and submerge it into the ice water bowl. To prevent the fish from floating, place a glass jar or metal pot filled with water on top of it. Change the water every 30 minutes.
Cook immediately after thawing.
Thawing salmon in the microwave:
To thaw salmon in the microwave, place it in a microwave-safe bowl or deep plate and use the defrost setting on it for 2 to 3 minutes. Check the fish and repeat the process in 1-minute intervals, if necessary, until it is thawed out entirely and evenly.
Cook immediately after thawing.
How to Refreeze Salmon
Technically, the process of refreezing salmon is not much different from freezing. All you need to do is seal the fish in a freezer bag or airtight storage container, label it with today’s date, and then place it in the freezer.
It’s safe to refreeze partially thawed salmon as long as you haven’t left it out at room temperature for more than 1 to 2 hours. For example, it’s okay to take two salmon fillets that have been frozen together from the freezer, leave them out for 10 to 15 minutes so you can crack them apart, then thaw one and refreeze the other.
Salmon that’s fully thawed out can only be refrozen raw if you defrosted it in the fridge. All other thawing methods expose raw salmon to the danger zone—the temperature range from 40°F (4.4°C) to 140°F (60°C) in which bacteria multiply the fastest—and you have to cook the salmon before freezing it.
When to Refreeze Salmon
Only refreeze salmon if it hasn’t sat out on the kitchen countertop for more than 2 hours (in summer, when the outside temperature is above 90°F/32°C, this time is reduced to only 1 hour).
According to an article on AskUSDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s consumer question and answer website, you can store raw fish in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before cooking, freezing, or refreezing it.
After you cook the fish, the federal agency recommends keeping it in the refrigerator for no more than 3 to 4 days. Salmon stored longer than this time should be thrown away—not refrozen.
When Not to Refreeze Salmon
If you thawed the salmon by leaving it out on the kitchen countertop for more than 1 to 2 hours, don’t refreeze it. In fact, you shouldn’t try to eat it under these circumstances as it may already be overgrown with disease-causing bacteria. Those bacteria can give you and the rest of the people at the table food poisoning.
If you refrigerated raw salmon for more than 1 to 2 days or cooked salmon for more than 3 to 4 days, don’t refreeze it and don’t try to eat it, even if it looks and smells perfectly fine. Unlike the bacteria that make salmon spoil, which are generally harmless, the pathogens that cause food poisoning are entirely undetectable to our senses.
Cooking the raw salmon or heating the cooked salmon through doesn’t make it any safer to eat, either. As an article at the Washington State Department of Health explains, the heat does kill the bacteria on the food, but these bacteria may have left poisonous toxic toxins that are not destroyed by heat exposure.