If you’ve walked into your kitchen only to discover that the freezer door has been left open, you may be in for a bit of a bad day.
Just like if the fridge door has been left open, you will first need to try to determine when the door was left open, and check the contents to make sure they can still be used.
Here is what you need to know:
How Long Can You Leave the Freezer Door Open?
You can leave a freezer door open for approximately 2 hours at 4°C or lower without spoiling the food stored inside. Any longer than that and you are looking at more significant thawing.
You will also have to consider how open the freezer door actually is. If it’s only a crack, the food may stay frozen for even longer than 2 hours. But if the door is left half or wide open, food will start to defrost in less than 2 hours.
The longer the freezer door stays open, the higher the chances its components will start to fail, which can lead to some costly repairs.
Here’s a breakdown of what is most likely to happen when you leave the freezer door open for a certain amount of time:
- 30 minutes: The freezer will start to leak cold air and the temperature inside it will start to rise. Ice crystals will start to form on your food, but it should still be perfectly safe to eat.
- 1 hour: More ice crystals will form, and ice will start to build up near the opening of the freezer. You may have a bit of difficulty closing the door, but most of your food should still be okay.
- 8-12 hours: If you have left the freezer door open overnight, there will be ice on the entire front of the freezer, and you will have to chip away at it to get to your food. Alternatively, you may discover a puddle of water underneath the freezer. The parts of the freezer closest to the compressor will start to get warm, and this is where most of your food will have defrosted.
- Over 24 hours: All of your food will have defrosted and there will be a lot more water around the freezer. It will feel significantly hot to the touch, and you will likely need to have it checked out by a professional, to make sure it’s still in working order.
- Over a week: If the freezer door has been left open for longer than a week, it will likely have overheated and serious damage has probably already occurred. You will need to replace it, and get rid of all of the food from it immediately. Also be on the lookout for coolant leaks, which may make you feel dizzy or nauseous. If this is the case, seek immediate medical help.
What Happens If I Leave My Freezer Door Open?
When you leave your freezer door open, food will start to spoil in around 2 hours. Moisture and ice will begin to form, and your freezer’s components will start to overheat.
Perishable items will begin to spoil at temperatures above 4°C. If any food has thawed and stayed at a temperature above 4°C for over 2 hours, it may need to be thrown out.
Also bear in mind that as your food melts, the liquid that leaks from it can contaminate other items it comes into contact with, so double-check everything and make sure each container or plastic bag is intact.
Moisture and Ice Formation
As the warm air from your kitchen mixes with the cold air in the freezer, moisture will begin to form. It will then start to turn into ice that will prevent the air from circulating inside the freezer.
As the temperatures in the freezer start to rise, it will need to work extra hard to lower them. This will lead to overheating and further increase the temperatures. It will also drive your electricity bill up, as the freezer will demand more power to work at these increased levels.
What Happens If You Leave the Freezer Door Open For an Hour?
Nothing dramatic should happen if you leave the freezer door open for an hour. Food may start to defrost slightly, but it will still be safe to eat.
If you know the freezer door has only been left open for an hour, close it immediately and don’t worry about it at all. All items that have started to thaw a bit will quickly refreeze and be perfectly edible.
However, if your freezer is practically empty, the few items you do have may have significantly defrosted. The fuller the freezer, the better it will be able to hold on to the low temperatures, so if it’s nearly empty, check all items to see how much they have thawed.
Can You Leave a Freezer Door Open Overnight?
You should never leave your freezer door open overnight, unless you are defrosting it and there is no food inside.
Leaving it open for that long when it is running will both ruin most if not all of the food inside it, and may even cause the freezer to break down.
What Do I Do If My Freezer Door Is Left Open?
If your freezer door is left open, check to see how much the food inside has defrosted and if the freezer is still working. Assess the damage and take action immediately.
Take a deep breath and try not to get too annoyed. Granted, this could be a serious and costly setback, but you need to remain calm as you root through the freezer.
Check for water around the freezer and feel the items inside. Are they wet and soft, or are they still mostly frozen? Is anything leaking?
If the freezer is still working, start salvaging. If it however is not, you will need to unplug it and probably get rid of everything.
Any item that is wet, soggy, soft and leaking should be thrown out. This will most likely happen to items at the front and top.
Anything that is still at least cool to the touch or partly frozen you can prepare immediately. Once you have cooked these defrosted items, it is safe to refreeze them again.
You may also want to defrost the freezer, if too much ice has formed. This will certainly be an inconvenience, but it can be the best way to get it back into proper working order as soon as possible.
Ask a friend or neighbour to store your food for you while you get this handled, and make sure the freezer is working properly before you return anything into it.
How Long Does It Take for a Freezer to Get Cold After Being Left Open?
It will take anywhere between 3 and 24 hours for a freezer to get cold again after being left open.
It will mostly depend on the amount of time the door has been left open for. If it’s just been an hour or two, just shut the door and leave it closed for a couple of hours. However, if you need to defrost the freezer, it will take longer. You will want to wait around 12 hours after defrosting a freezer to return any food.
Is Food OK If the Freezer is Left Open?
If the freezer door has been left open for 2 hours or less, the food will most likely be fine. If it has been open for longer, you will need to assess each item to make sure it is still edible.
Anything that is leaking, dripping or soft should be thrown out. Items that are still semi-frozen and cool can be prepared and refrozen.
Can You Refreeze Food If the Freezer Door Was Left Open?
It will depend on the kind of food and how long the freezer door was left open. Items that have completely thawed and are warm to the touch should not be refrozen.
Any raw meat, including beef, chicken, pork or lamb can be refrozen if it is still very cold, and if it hasn’t been stored at temperatures above 4°C. You can use a thermometer to check the temperature in the freezer.
If you find that the meat is still icy and does not smell, and has not been thawing for over a day, you can refreeze it. If there is no ice on it, you can prepare it straight away, provided it does not smell and has not changed colour.
Cooked meat or items containing cooked meat should be thrown out, as the taste will be off.
Fish and seafood should be prepared immediately, as long as it is still cold and there is ice on it. If it has completely thawed, or if it smells and is slimy, it should be thrown out.
Fruits that have gone soft should be thrown out. They will probably still be safe to eat, but they won’t taste good at all. If you notice any mould or smell, get rid of them as well. The same goes for vegetables: if they are not still solid and icy, you need to get rid of them.
As for ice cream, if you notice it has significantly melted, you will need to throw it out. If it’s just a tiny bit runny, you can refreeze it, but note that it may not taste as good as expected.
How Long After Defrosting a Freezer Can I Put Food Back In?
You should wait 4-12 hours before putting food back into a freezer you have defrosted. Ideally, you want to plug it in in the evening, and restock it in the morning.
Before you place any food back in the freezer, make sure it is cold enough by sticking your hand in and checking the temperature. This is especially important if your freezer door has been left open and you were forced to defrost it.
Wrapping It Up
If you have left your freezer door open, don’t immediately panic. There is a chance that some, if not all of your food is still okay. However, if things have started to thaw and melt, you are advised to prepare anything that is still salvageable immediately, and get rid of everything else. You don’t want to risk an upset stomach.