Fortunately, I own three crock pots, so I was able to deal with them all at once. I cooked 7 chicken breasts,
I slow cooked them all separately, then chopped/shredded them and portioned them for meals and refroze.
I did the best I could and saved the $40-50 it would have cost to replace all that meat. But now I'm finding I like having the precooked/preportioned meat for quick meals.
Here are some tips (from a legitimate food safety expert. No really. That's what I do!) for what you can do if you have an extended power outage, or are just careless and leave your freezer open all day when it's 85°F outside. For simplicity's sake, I'll just address the problem of an extended power outage (which we had here recently too).
- Keep the refrigerator CLOSED. If the power is out for 4-6 hours or so, your foods will remain at proper temperatures for at least that long if the door stays shut. A fully stocked freezer will stay frozen even longer, but only if the door is shut. Once you open the door, even for a second, the cold air dissipates much quicker than you might expect.
- When the power comes back on, evaluate your potentially hazardous foods (PHF). Be particularly careful about packaged meat products (cold cuts etc), dairy products, raw meats and leftovers. The food code allows these foods to remain in the "danger zone" (41°F to 140°F) for no more than 4 hours. If you have a food thermometer (and I recommend that you do, for cooking temperatures as well), use it. If your PHF are < 41°F (I would feel comfortable with 45°F or below, but no higher!), they are safe to be used and can be rechilled with no ill effects.
- Hard cheeses, raw produce, commercially prepared dressings and condiments (such as mayonnaise) and eggs in intact shells are usually safe to eat, even after many hours of temperature abuse.
- If the PHF is warmer than 45°F or so, you'll have to make a judgement call. If the power was out for an extended period (longer than 8 hours or so) chances are the foods have been in the danger zone for at least half of that (> 4 hours) and should be discarded. If the power was out for a shorter time, the food might still be safe, but it's a risk. The rule is, when in doubt, throw it out.
- If the products in your freezer have completely thawed (no ice crystals remaining), you'll need to use them right away or cook them before you refreeze. If there are ice crystals remaining, you should be able to refreeze safely, though there may be a decrease in the taste and quality of the food.
- When cooking meats that have been thawed unexpectedly, be extra sure to cook to the recommended temperatures to destroy all pathogenic organisms. Chicken and other poultry must cook to 165°F or above, pork and ground beef to at least 155°F. Use a metal stem thermometer to be sure of your cooking temperatures.
- When cooling down large quantities of foods, be certain to cool quickly. Put the hot foods in shallow pans or small portions, and allow plenty of room in the freezer around the product to ensure that they cool completely.
- Once the product is frozen, it is safe to stack them to save space.