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Most people are aware that once you've had foods out of the freezer and allowed them to thaw, you shouldn't put them back in your freezer.

But what about frost hardy plants like leeks? I've just harvested some old onions, leeks and carrots and who knows how many times they've been frozen in the ground, then thawed out.

Is this OK?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

A raw root vegetable can sit at room temperature or slightly cooler for weeks and months without bacterial growth that will harm you. The same is not true of meat, cooked vegetables, and other things you're likely to have in your freezer. That's where the "don't refreeze" advice comes from - the food may have started to spoil, and you should therefore cook it and eat it quickly before it gets worse. Entirely different from whether a raw root vegetable happened to freeze or almost freeze.

Some vegetables are so much nicer after a frost that my parents had a rule that if you harvested them earlier (because you couldn't wait to eat them or there hadn't been a frost by a meal that called for them), give them a little time in the freezer. Parsnips, for example, are much sweeter after a frost.

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agreed, brussel sprouts and parsnips are much sweeter after a frost or two. Soil is an insulator so a little frost just breaks down some of the cell walls and releases the contents of the cells, sugar! – kevinsky Feb 6 '12 at 0:59
Yep. Best carrots I've had were dug out from under 3" of snow in early December! – bstpierre Feb 6 '12 at 1:04

I think the advice to not re-freeze anything has more to do with the structure of the produce being broken down by the ice crystals (the cell walls burst from the pressure or the ice crystals cut through) and you end up with a "mushy" (highly technical term) vegetable. This can also lead to freezer burn (parts of the vegetable dehydrated due to water loss). If the onions, leeks and carrots all look OK to you (mites, molds, fungi, etc), and pass the sniff test and aren't soft, then I see no reason the think they would be bad.

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Yes, it's safe. Spoilage in vegetables that have had "too much" frost is obvious -- e.g. spinach leaves will be discolored or mushy. Classic advice is to let parsnips overwinter, so that the cold weather makes the plant convert starches to sugars. This works with carrots too, though if they experience too many freeze/thaw cycles, they'll turn to mush (in which case they'll be obviously unappealing to eat!).

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