Eat or not, open freezer door edition
May 7, 2017 8:35 PM   Subscribe

The freezer door was left open for at least a couple hours. I have PTSD from food-related stuff and it's very hard for me to judge objectively if the food in the freezer is still safe to eat or not.

Our freezer is a nightmare. The way it's designed makes it very difficult to put stuff in there and be able to close the door tightly. If there's too much stuff, it pops open on its own after 30 seconds.

We went shopping earlier today, and at some point this afternoon, my girlfriend stuffed a couple loaves of bread in the freezer. I didn't notice until a while later, but the door was wide open and the cold air vents were totally blocked. All the stuff in the door of the fridge had thawed completely, but I couldn't tell if things in boxes and bags had thawed, except that the boxes had gotten soggy. It was probably open for a couple hours max.

I've been diagnosed with PTSD related to food. If I can't ensure that something is safe, I won't eat it (because if I do, I'll get a panic attack). As you might expect, I'm pretty well-read when it comes to food safety guidelines, but I'm not sure what to make of this situation. Is it insane to think everything could have gone bad in just a couple hours? My concerns are twofold: that not only did everything in the freezer get too warm, but that the freezer stayed warm for a while even after I closed the door. The poor fridge has been running continuously for the past two hours (which is how long I've been obsessing over this, apparently).

I'm especially interested in what similarly obsessive or germophobic people have to say. There's always going to be someone who says "I'd eat it" (even if it was sitting behind a radiator all day), but I'm curious to hear from the people who might be able to relate to my anxiety here.

Also, if you are wondering, yes, this is an exhausting way to go through life.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
Oops, I meant to say "at least an hour" or "up to two hours" above the fold, but I accidentally combined that into "at least two hours."
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:36 PM on May 7, 2017

Check out the USDA-defined "Danger Zone".

First question, did the food get above 40F? If not, your frozen food merely became refrigerated food. If it did get above 40F, bacteria could have begun to multiply on the food, the same way it would when you're preparing food, or food is sitting on the table for an hour. The USDA guidelines say up to 2 hours in this stage is OK, and I understand that USDA guidelines are considered to be fairly conservative.

If your freezer door was open for 2 hours, food would have taken some amount of time to reach 40F (if it did get that warm). You need to be concerned with the amount of time above 40F. I'd try to figure out if/when it would have gone above 40F, and if so, how long it would have taken to get below 40F after you closed the door again.
posted by reeddavid at 9:00 PM on May 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have an extremely low tolerance for potential food danger (not quite as severe as yours by the sound of it, but I definitely have a much lower threshold for possible food risk than most people I know). I'd have no problem eating this - like reeddavid said, two hours is within the window for uncooked food to be kept at room temperature, let alone the still-fairly-cool temperatures that an open freezer would be. Once you close the freezer it should get down to at least refrigeration temp (if not full freeze temp) pretty quickly, so I wouldn't worry too much about that lag time.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:05 PM on May 7, 2017

I would eat it, but another way to look at it would be replacement coat. What would it cost to replace and how much time and effort would go into it? Are we talking hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of food? If it is a few hundred and your therapist charges a say $150 per session, it would be cheaper to replace than spend a few sessions going over it.
posted by AugustWest at 9:24 PM on May 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Rationally I think you'd be fine eating most if not everything in the freezer, especially assuming you will cook things properly. In your case however, you have to decide if your mental health is going to be better if you push yourself to be comfortable with eating this stuff or if you prioritize mental chill and decide to dump and restock a bunch of things. Like, how sure are you that you'll have a panic attack if you eat the definitely safer stuff like bread? Because if I had to pick panic attack or food poisoning I honestly don't know which I would go for, but if the panic attack was only like a fifteen percent thing on a good day I'd risk it. YMMV, I do not have food related panic attacks and am just extrapolating from my own stuff.

Consider, if you have the space for it, an inexpensive separate chest freezer. They're a couple hundred bucks at Costco last I checked, and with a lid on top you have gravity to help you keep it closed. Then just keep little stuff in your regular freezer, and perhaps put a child safety latch on the door so there's something else keeping it closed. Big useful appliances shouldn't be "nightmares" and if they are even the most mentally healthy people are going to take steps to work around or replace them.
posted by Mizu at 9:28 PM on May 7, 2017

This is somewhat non-responsive to your question, but might a device such as this (which melts at various temperatures and alerts you to potential food safety issues) or this (simpler, just lets you know if the freezer has reached above freezing) give you some peace of mind?
posted by charmcityblues at 9:37 PM on May 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would have no problem refreezing and eating this stuff later but then I'm not you. If I was you, then as per above, I would treat the previously-frozen food as now-refrigerated food, and work to use it in the next few days, depending on what it is. Use any chicken, pork, seafood or dairy products sooner rather than later, and any beef products after that.
posted by turbid dahlia at 10:35 PM on May 7, 2017

Not an answer to the question, but check the feet of your refrigerator. They should be adjustable so that the back of the fridge sits very slightly lower than the front, giving the door a bit more help with closing and staying closed.
posted by asperity at 10:55 PM on May 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I always look for frost or water damage to the boxes. Either is a sign that the goods have melted and re-frozen and are a no-go. I look for these in the store too.
posted by Ampersand692 at 3:17 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it were me, and I'm the anxious type too with things like this, I would cook up everything I would reasonably eat in the next few days and I'd ditch the rest. Treating it like refrigerated food is a good suggestion. I wouldn't refreeze things personally. Even if they are fine food safety wise I think the quality is no longer as good.
posted by kitten magic at 3:37 AM on May 8, 2017

To prevent this situation in the future, I suggest adding a latch to the freezer that will prevent it from popping open like that. If you don't want to drill holes for screws, use some super-duper two-sided sticky tape to attach it. You can do this even with a two-door fridge model by applying the latch on the top rather than side of the door. You can use a standard metal latch, or get creative with Velcro. Or one of these.
posted by beagle at 6:41 AM on May 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

An easy test for the future - rather than buy a device, just make a couple ice cubes. Put them into a plastic baggie, or another container that's larger than the cube itself. If the freezer was too warm for too long, the ice cube will have melted into another shape that conforms to the baggie or other container.
posted by hydra77 at 6:16 PM on May 8, 2017

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