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Given that this is "Seasoned Advice", my question may be considered blasphemy, but I'm going to take a chance anyways as the good people here are likely best suited to know the answer. ;)

Is there any harm in storing store-bought frozen dinners in the refrigerator (not freezer) for up to a week before eating them?

Many frozen dinners are labelled with "do not thaw", implying there is a problem with doing this, and I am hoping people here can shed some light on the topic.


Update: In the comments, I was asked why I would like to do this, and what I am trying to achieve. Good questions!

The reason I would like to do this is because the freezer is completely filled, and a bunch of frozen dinners are being delivered (as a result of mistakes outside of my control).

Also, I know people will be eating several of the frozen dinners within a week, so it will conserve energy to place them in the refrigerator before cooking them in a microwave oven.

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    I'd be interested in knowing why you wish to store them in the fridge. What do you hope to achieve by doing so? Or what prevents you from storing them in the freezer?
    – MonkeyZeus
    Nov 12 '20 at 15:11
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    This was nearly a comment under Joe's answer (+1), but applies more to the question. Practically I'd say as a rule of thumb a couple of days should be fine in the coldest part of the fridge - that's around 24 hours to defrost (based on my home made ready meals) and 24 hours to not degrade in quality too much - actual spoilage should take considerably longer. This assumes a meal that won't suffer too much from bits getting prematurely wet, so not everything. But if the you have no (or a too-small) freezer this may be some help.
    – Chris H
    Nov 12 '20 at 20:43
  • @MonkeyZeus Good questions! I updated the original question to answer your questions. Thank you for your interest and inquisitive mind! Nov 13 '20 at 8:58
  • There are bacteria that are dormant while frozen and die while cokking in high temp. They are on the packages and in the meals. Keeping food in refrigerator give them chance to multiply and survive cooking process. And to move in into the refrigerator and live there on other foods. Nov 13 '20 at 9:25
  • Instead of your original plan, I'd look for bulky items in your freezer that either are intended to be thawed before cooking, or are capable of being cooked now and reheated for dinner over the next few days; and pull those from your freezer to make room for the frozen meals and eat what you just removed over the next few days instead. Nov 13 '20 at 19:41
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I wouldn't recommend it for a couple of reasons:

  1. Food in general degrades much faster in the fridge than in the freezer, so you risk spoilage during that time. Most prepared foods are not recommended to be stored that long in the fridge.

  2. Most "do not thaw" meals are designed to be cooked from frozen. So you're not only left guessing what the correct cooking times are, but there may be elements such as a sauce that placed in the container as a puck that's intended to no interact with the other item in that compartment, but that would now have a week to get soggy from the sauce and dramatically change how it cooks up.

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    If I'm not mistaken, a food that was previously frozen degrades even faster than the same food that hasn't been frozen.
    – Laurent S.
    Nov 12 '20 at 8:42
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    @LaurentS.: The ice crystals destroy cell walls which makes food more soggy. Notice how bananas and other fruit loose all firmness once they’ve been frozen. I don’t think it increases the growth of harmful bacteria or mold.
    – Michael
    Nov 12 '20 at 13:31
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    @Michael : it might. It changes the availability of water, as it's now outside cell walls, giving places for mold and bacteria to grow. Although frozen dinners would be sent through a blast chiller for quick freezing, so it's possible that there's not as much cellular damage.
    – Joe
    Nov 12 '20 at 13:37
  • It is a fine answer but the truth is he could probably put them in a freezer bag and keep them in the fridge for a month and be fine. These things have so many preservatives that they go bad slightly faster than honey.
    – blankip
    Nov 12 '20 at 22:21
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    @blankip That's untrue of a lot of frozen meals. The freezing itself is the preservative in many cases.
    – SnakeDoc
    Nov 12 '20 at 22:22

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