My kids love popsicles – and they spend way too much time with the freezer open looking for said popsicles. But one warm summer day, when they didn’t shut the freezer adequately, we had to have a chat about why closing that door is so important – and why an open door could cause all sorts of frozen foods (like my favorite veggies) to thaw.
Frozen vegetables naturally thaw when the temperature rises above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius). Veggies can thaw accidentally with fluctuating temperatures that initiate a thaw (such as issues with the freezer) or intentionally once removed from the freezer.
Ready to read more about why veggies thaw? Grab a Popsicle of your own – and then keep reading for all of the details.
Why Your Frozen Vegetables Thaw
Vegetable thaw happens when (for whatever reason) they are no longer in a freezing environment. Freezing means less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). Usually, freezers are pretty good at keeping your food below freezing – so they stay frozen.
Most freezers actually keep your food at well below freezing. That way, even if things warm up a little bit (like if you put something not-frozen into the freezer), things get and stay cold – and there’s not any thawing going on.
Here are some common reasons why frozen vegetables thaw.
- You got them out of the freezer. Once removed from the freezing safety of a freezer, those vegetables are going to thaw. It will take a few minutes, but it’s going to happen no matter where you put those veggies (unless it’s right back into the freezer). Common places thawing veggies go is on the counter (not recommended nor safe), into the fridge (usually fine), into the microwave, or into a pot to be cooked. Cooking from frozen is generally totally safe.
- The freezer failed to stay cold enough. If the freezer can’t maintain a cold-enough temperature, then all of the food inside will begin to thaw. This could be due to a catastrophic freezer failure or just because somebody didn’t shut the door enough to engage the seal. It could also be due to setting the freezer to the wrong temperature.
- They’re not actually in the freezer. I’ve done this before. You think you’re putting those frozen foods into the freezer, but later, you realize you put them somewhere else (like the fridge or the pantry). It’s a big, painful, oops moment – that requires a good bit of cleaning up.
Within that last reason why vegetable thaw is a common sub-element: that you’re storing your food outside. Because while it’s easy to think that you can store your frozen foods outside in the winter, my research actually found that it’s an unsafe way to store food, as temperatures fluctuate outside of freezing more often than we’d think. Go read my article on storing food outside in the winter for more details.
What Happens if Frozen Vegetables Thawed?
What happens to thawed vegetables will depend on how they’re thawed or stored after thawing. Even so, let’s look at the most common examples.
|Reason for Thawing||What to Do||Rationale/Notes|
|Taken out to thaw to cook for dinner||Cook those veggies and enjoy dinner.||Thawing veggies is safest in the fridge or if cooked from frozen.|
|It got taken out for dinner and left on the counter||This isn’t the safest way to thaw – move it to the fridge or cook them instead.||Keeping food in the “danger zone” of bacterial growth isn’t ever recommended.|
|Freezing failure||If foods thawed completely, consider them as refrigerated only – and either use or toss accordingly.||Once thawed, these foods won’t re-freeze as safely. Using or tossing them is the best option. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and no food poisoning (toss ’em).|
|Power outage||Leave the freezer door shut. Freezers may be able to stay cold enough for a few hours on their own.||If the power won’t be back on for a while, then you may need to use whatever you can and toss the rest.|
|Veggies aren’t actually in the freezer||Throw that soppy veggie mess away – and clean up the residue.||Frozen foods left out (like in the pantry) will quickly spoil. Odds are, you’ll find it due to the smell.|
If you aren’t ever sure how long your frozen vegetables have been left out or what their temperature fluctuation has been, then the safest route is to dispose of them. Food poisoning isn’t fun.
Can You Let Frozen Vegetables Thaw?
Can you? Yes. But the better question is this: should you? And that answer is going to depend on why you’re wanting them thawed in the first place.
I thaw frozen vegetables all the time – most usually it’s because I’m going to be cooking them for a meal. Sometimes, it’s because I forget about them. But that’s pretty rare, thankfully.
And that’s mostly because I don’t care for thawed, uncooked vegetables. In my opinion, frozen veggies, once thawed, are limp shadows of their former vegetable glory. I’d love to say that’s a fact, but there are some people who don’t mind eating thawed veggies. There are even some people who enjoy it.
However, my very-biased survey shows that’s the minority of people. Most people seem to agree with my assessment of limp, thawed veggies as being less appetizing.
Cooking frozen vegetables, thankfully, can be a lot like cooking with fresh veggies. Steaming them, for example, can get you a final dish that’s almost as good as cooking with fresh veggies.
So can you let frozen veggies thaw? Yes, you can. But they’ll be a lot tastier if you cook them directly from their frozen state.
What about if you’re thawing the veggies for some other reason (like as part of a science experiment)? Then go ahead and go for it. Thaw and science away, my friend. Just don’t eat those veggies afterward unless they come with a radioactive spider. Even then, know that you’re more likely to get food poisoning than superpowers.
How Long Frozen Vegetables Last Once Thawed
Technically speaking, thawed vegetables last up to a 3-5 days, if they were thawed in a fridge.
Realistically speaking, though, frozen veggies (once thawed) need to be cooked immediately. Thawed, previously-frozen veggies (especially broccoli) becomes super limp. And no amount of spices or cooking prowess can fix that.
Therefore, my personal rule on using thawed veggies is this: if it’s fully thawed, it’s only fit for a soup or stew. Soups and stews cook long enough that the veggies would be falling apart anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they’re limp.
But if I want to cook those frozen vegetables for eating where they need to at least somewhat resemble fresh veggies? Then I cook them immediately – and I don’t thaw them beforehand.
Why Do Frozen Foods Say “Do Not Thaw”?
Frozen foods say “do not thaw” on them for several reasons.
- Frozen foods need to be stored in a freezing environment to prevent thawing to the point where they can grow and develop food-borne illnesses. It’s not safe to store frozen foods in the fridge for months on end.
- The FDA requires packaged foods to come with storage and cooking instructions (including the “Do Not Thaw” warning) to help prevent food poisoning.
- It’s much easier for a company to label foods with instructions to educate and help people – while also preventing a lawsuit.
Okay, so all of those reasons are interconnected. But still. They are all important for keeping consumers (buyers and eaters) safe from potential food poisoning related to improper food storage.
What To Do with Thawed Frozen Vegetables
My rule of thumb for using thawed, previously-frozen veggies is to make a soup or stew. Or, if I’ve got a good variety of fresh vegetables I can mix with the thawed ones, then I’ll get super creative and make some sort of a ratatouille or curry dish.
Soups and stews are the best, most forgiving way to use thawed vegetables because they can salvage even the limpest of thawed foods.
You can also cook those vegetables, if you want. Just know that I don’t recommend it. They won’t have the same texture as fresh vegetables – and it can be off-putting for even the most vegetable-loving of souls.
Vegetables are amazing, versatile, and wonderful healthy food. They go well in so many dishes. They store well in the freezer, as long as they stay frozen. Or, if your freezer isn’t a totally reliable option, then they can be dehydrated or freeze-dried really well, too. Veggies are, in all honesty, a staple of any healthy diet.
So make sure you’re storing and using them well. They don’t deserve the bad rep from being used once thawed. So let’s make storing and using frozen veggies an awesome thing. Because it’s meant to be awesome – and a great way to have fresh, delicious foods in the off-season.
Can You Store Food Under the Sink? Food should never be stored under the sink, as it’s a perfect environment for bacterial growth. Read my article on the history and dangers of storing things under the sink here.
Can You Store Food in a Home Depot Bucket? Buckets are labeled as food-grade (safe for food storage) or not. The orange Home Depot (Homer) bucket is not safe for storing food. Read more about storing food in buckets (including buckets from Home Depot) in my article here.
Can You Refrigerate Boiled Water? Never put hot things in the fridge, as it can raise the fridge temperature into the bacterial growth zone. Plus, all that condensation can ruin your fridge. Read more about why putting boiling water into a fridge is a bad idea in my article here.
Can You Freeze Food in Pyrex? Foods can be safely frozen in Pyrex dishes, as long as there are no drastic temperature changes. For all of the details in using glassware safely, please refer to my post on freezing food with Pyrex here.