Is it safe for fish, meat to be thawed and re-frozen?

ST reader Vivian Tan wrote in to say her in-laws recently thawed a piece of cod to cook porridge for her eight-month-old baby.

She added that her in-laws intended to thaw the fish, divide it into smaller pieces, then use one piece and re-freeze the rest.

She objected to this as she thought it was not advisable to thaw raw meat more than once. Her in-laws said all fish are frozen and then thawed to be sold in supermarkets.

She wants to know if this is the practice by fishmongers/ butchers and supermarkets, and whether fish and meat can be frozen again after being bought from the market. She asked for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA's) take on this and about the risk of food poisoning or food turning bad with this practice.

Mind&Body editor Ng Wan Ching finds an answer:

Any raw or cooked food that has been thawed can be refrozen as long as it was thawed properly in the refrigerator and not on the counter, and has not spoiled.

The AVA advises consumers not to thaw and re-freeze seafood and meat. When these are thawed, bacteria will multiply and this may lead to spoilage. ST FILE PHOTO

That is the view of Ms Tina Hanes, a registered dietitian with the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, as reported in the New York Times. This applies to raw meat, poultry and seafood.

The key is in how the frozen food was thawed.

It should be thawed in the refrigerator, and never by placing it on the counter at room temperature or by running it under warm tap water.

This is because bacteria like warm environments and multiply rapidly at room temperature.

You should also not allow thawed raw meat, poultry and seafood to sit in the fridge for too long before refreezing them because they can spoil in the refrigerator too. Spoiled food can smell bad or "off", and may be sticky or slimy.

The Straits Times understands that imported seafood, including fish, comes in various forms - live, chilled and frozen.

The consumer can check with the fishmonger whether the fish he has for sale has been thawed before. The consumer can also check at supermarkets whether the fish, meat and seafood products were thawed before being put up for sale.

The AVA advises consumers not to thaw and re-freeze seafood and meat. Thawing and re-freezing will affect the quality of the product, said a spokesman for the AVA.

Bacteria will also start to multiply once seafood/meat is thawed, which may lead to spoilage or cause food poisoning.

After buying frozen seafood and meat, consumers should portion them out into suitable serving sizes before storage. This will help consumers avoid the need to re-freeze unused portions of thawed seafood or meat, said the AVA spokesman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Is it safe for fish, meat to be thawed and re-frozen?'. Print Edition | Subscribe