When it comes to cooking, freezing, and reheating foods, particularly poultry, health and safety are a concern. While you may have heard or read news reports about food poisoning from eating reheated poultry, but you can safely freeze cooked chicken to reheat and eat at a later time.
Problems occur when people leave chicken at room temperature for too long, allowing contaminants to multiply. When chicken is frozen, bacteria remain in the food, causing you to become ill when you reheat it, especially if you don’t heat it to the right temperature.
To safely freeze cooked chicken and eat it, there are a few essential things to know.
1. Why People Think You Can’t Freeze Cooked Chicken?
People think you can’t freeze cooked chicken because of incidents of food poisoning and salmonella. In most cases, these don’t occur because of freezing and reheating; the improper thawing of raw chicken causes them.
While freezing meat or poultry close to its use-by date is an excellent way to reduce waste, you must be extremely vigilant when doing so. Note the expiration date before freezing the food so you know how long you can leave it before cooking once it thaws.
2. Dangers With Freezing Chicken
Chicken is often contaminated by harmful bacteria that can cause illness and sometimes even death. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter are the most common types of bacteria found in chicken.
Salmonella, C. perfringens, and Campylobacter all produce intestinal symptoms that can make the next 5-7 days miserable for those who ingest it. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, severe stomach cramping, nausea, fever, and chills. For children, seniors, and those with a compromised immune system, these illnesses can be hazardous.
Cooking removes these bacteria, but mishandling or undercooking chicken can lead to foodborne illnesses being spread through the chicken and its juices.
Freezing cooked chicken can reduce bacteria growth, but it doesn’t kill most foodborne pathogens. The proper handling of chicken from its raw state to its reheated-from-frozen state is vital.
3. How to Safely Freeze Cooked Chicken?
How can you freeze cooked chicken and reheat it safely?
Once you cook chicken, you must cool it before placing it in the freezer. The freezer acts as a neutral zone where it preserves the food without deterioration. In some cases, the cold air within your freezer can dry out the chicken. To combat this, wrap the chicken in sealable bags or put them into airtight containers.
Whether you cook your chicken from frozen or fresh, you can freeze it and reheat it at a later time. However, you should only reheat it once.
When food is frozen at -0.4°F or below, it prevents chemical reactions from taking place between the food and bacteria. Toxins no longer produce, and bacteria stop growing. However, this is temporary, and reactions will continue once the food is heated up again.
The most dangerous bacteria grow between the temperatures of 46°F and 145°F. When defrosting your food, prevent it from reaching these temperatures. The safest way to defrost chicken is in the fridge. When set correctly, your fridge should be 41°F or below, keeping its contents below the 46°F threshold.
Once the chicken has been safely defrosted, heat it thoroughly before eating. Again, this keeps the food at a safe temperature, reducing the likelihood of bacteria growth.
You can use a microwave to defrost and reheat cooked chicken from frozen. Once hot, eat it immediately because microwaves bring the chicken to a temperature somewhere between 46°F and 145°F. This is the temperature at which bacteria thrive.
4. Can You Freeze and Reheat All Chicken?
Most chicken can be frozen and reheated safely. Cooked breasts, legs, and wings can be frozen and reheated. Using containers or freezer bags helps keep them separated and maintains their shape.
Fried chicken may also be frozen and reheated. Again, freezer bags or food containers are most suitable for storing fried chicken pieces.
Most soups freeze well, including chicken. Allow the soup to cool before placing it into bags, food containers, or mason jars. Allocate soup into individual servings so it can be heated and consumed as they’re needed.
If you cook chicken noodle soup, the noodles absorb moisture. During freezing and reheating, this moisture causes the noodles to fall apart. Consider freezing the base of the soup and add the noodles when you heat the soup again.
However, there are some instances when you shouldn’t freeze and reheat chicken dishes. If your chicken or dish contains cream, dairy, or mayonnaise, it is likely to separate or curdle, creating an undesirable texture.
5. Tips for Freezing, Reheating, and Thawing Chicken
Once cooked, prioritize getting your chicken into the refrigerator as quickly as possible. Leaving it out at room temperature increases the likelihood of contamination. Allow it to cool before preparing it for storage in the freezer.
Use air-tight packaging for cooked chicken and press out as much air as possible to avoid freezer burn. Place the chicken in the coldest part of your freezer, toward the back. Avoid putting it on the door, as this zone is exposed to room temperatures more frequently.
Investing in a culinary thermometer is useful if you regularly cook, freeze and reheat the chicken. You can use it to determine your freezer’s temperature, finding the best place to store the chicken. You can also measure the temperature of the chicken to ensure you reheat it safely.
How can you freeze cooked chicken and reheat it if you don’t have enough space in your fridge or if you’re in a hurry? One of the best and safest ways to defrost frozen chicken is to let it thaw in cold water. Place the chicken into leakproof plastic bags to prevent it from being damaged and change the water every 30 minutes.
6. Prepare Meals Safely
Regularly discarding leftovers generates a lot of waste. However, it’s even more crucial to be safe when freezing, storing, and reheating chicken.
Take precautions and be vigilant of chicken spoiling. Safe chicken preparation can lead to reduced waste and increased savings on your grocery bills.