Question: Is it safe to refreeze a partially thawed turkey? I started to defrost a frozen turkey for a holiday dinner, but now I’ve had a change in plans. Can I refreeze the turkey?
Answer: It depends on how you thawed the turkey.
It’s fine to refreeze a thawed turkey — as long as you thawed it in the refrigerator. If that was the case, you can put it right back into the freezer according to the United States Department of Agriculture. If your turkey is fully thawed, you can safely keep it refrigerated for an additional one or two days before refreezing it. When you eventually thaw the turkey a second time, you may notice a decrease in quality, but it’ll certainly be safe to eat.
If, on the other hand, you thawed the turkey in cold water or the microwave, the USDA advises that you should cook it immediately. That’s because with either method, the turkey could have at least temporarily warmed up to a temperature higher than 40°F. At that point, harmful bacteria can begin to multiply and only further cooking will destroy it; simply refreezing the turkey won’t do the trick.
Finally, if you thawed the turkey on the counter or in hot water, you shouldn’t eat it at all. The USDA cautions that it’s dangerous to eat any meat or poultry that’s been thawed under those two methods, as the outer layer of the food would have been allowed to sit between the bacteria-breeding temperatures of 40° F and 140° F for far too long to be safe.