Freezer Disaster Prompts Cooking Spree

“Wow, we’re having lots of meat for lunch!” my daughter exclaimed. She was about 4 years old at the time.

I was cooking pork, beef, chicken, Italian sausage and a few hotdogs. The meat wasn’t for lunch, though.

I was trying to salvage food after someone left our freezer door partly open. An open freezer door is not a good plan, especially when your freezer is in a warm garage.

“Maybe the wind blew the freezer door open,” my then-10-year-old daughter offered.

“I wonder if the wind ate the ice cream bars that were in the freezer. I noticed we only have three liquid ice cream bars left in the box,” I said, more than a bit sarcastically.

“By the way, I found the ice cream wrappers in the basement by the video games. We could have DNA analysis done,” my husband noted.

“I bet this story is going to be in a column,” my then-13-year-old video-game-loving son muttered.

Meanwhile, I continued to cook and my family stayed out of my way. I wasn’t exactly cheery after throwing away a trash can full of dripping food. Fortunately, the meat was still mostly frozen, but I thawed it and cooked it.

I thought about the advice I had given through the years when people had power outages.

In the case of a power outage, refrigerated food will remain chilled for several hours as long as you keep the refrigerator door closed. Food in half-full freezers will remain frozen up to a day, while food in full freezers usually remains frozen up to two days.

Food that contains more water, such as meat and vegetables, stays frozen longer than food with little water, such as bread. You can use dry ice or bags of ice to keep the temperature cold longer.

I was kind of wishing we had a chest freezer instead of an upright because chest freezers keep food frozen longer. Maybe the door would fall shut, too.

Since we had an accidental situation involving a partially open door, I needed to assess the situation a little differently, but still follow the rules.

  • Measure the temperature of the food with a food thermometer. Food that is at “refrigerator temperature” (40 degrees) is considered safe. Since the food in the door of my freezer was fully thawed and nearly 50 degrees, I threw it out.
  • Check the remaining frozen food for ice crystals. Food with ice crystals can be refrozen safely. Although the meat in the interior part of our freezer had ice crystals, I decided to cook it right away. Refreezing food can result in quality loss.
  • Check if raw meat juices have dripped on “ready-to-eat” food, such as packages of bread or fruit. In this situation, cross-contamination could occur easily, especially if the wrapper is damaged.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. I debated about a couple of packages, but decided the cost of foodborne illness outweighed the cost of a package of chicken.

By the end of my cooking spree, all of our meals for the week were ready to reheat. Maybe weekend cooking was a good plan.

We especially enjoyed the chicken soup. You might, too. For more information about food and nutrition, visit our Web site:

Homemade Chicken Dumpling Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
1 c. fresh celery with leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil
2 c. carrots, sliced
1/2 tsp. peppercorns (or ground pepper)
2 bay leaves
2 c. cooked chicken, diced or chunked
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 c. fresh spinach, chopped
2 quarts reduced-sodium chicken broth 2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. skim milk or water
1 egg, beaten

Heat olive oil in bottom of 3-quart or larger kettle. Add chopped onion and celery. Sauté on medium heat until onion starts becoming translucent. Add carrots, peppercorns, bay leaves, chicken and broth. Bring to a low boil and cook for 20 minutes, covered. Add thyme and spinach and continue to cook, covered. Meanwhile, beat egg in a medium bowl and then add the flour and milk (or water). Mix until just moistened. Let mixture rest while soup simmers. After 20 minutes of simmering, drop dumplings into broth using one tablespoon to scoop and another to “drop” off the spoon. Be careful of hot liquid splashing up. Continue slowly adding dumplings, allowing each to cook. Cover kettle and simmer another 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 4.5 grams (g) of fat, 25 g of carbohydrate, 16 g of protein and 2 g of fiber.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a professor and Extension food and nutrition specialist with NDSU Extension.