It is always frustrating when you pull out something from your freezer with a plan to defrost it for your dinner and discover that it is covered in unsightly freezer burn. But what is freezer burn? How does it happen? How can it be prevented? And does it make your food unsafe to eat? Read on to find out!
What is freezer burn?
When frozen foods are exposed to cold, dry air, they dehydrate as the outer layers lose moisture, resulting in freezer burn. One of the most obvious signs of freezer burn is the formation of ice crystals on the outside of food, giving it a frosty appearance. Other signs of freezer burn can be if the surface of your food appears white and dried out, or if it looks porous.
Freezer burn can have a significant impact on the flavor and texture of the affected food.
How does freezer burn happen?
The most common causes of freezer burn are improper packaging or temperature, as well as spending too much time in the freezer. Cold, dry air is more likely to permeate foods that have not been tightly wrapped, have been left open, or have been stored in temperatures that fluctuate frequently. This causes dried-out sections due to moisture evaporating from the food, which can impact the appearance, taste, and texture of meats, produce, and other frozen products.
Is freezer-burned food unsafe to eat?
According to the USDA, as long as your freezer is kept at 0°F, the food inside it will be safe to eat indefinitely. However, freezer-burned food might be safe, but it definitely is not appetizing. Freezer-burned food is often dry, tasteless and rubbery, and sometimes even has an unpleasant spongy texture.
Can freezer-burned food be saved?
While there is no way of reversing the damage done to food that is freezer burned, you may find it possible to cut away the damaged portion of food if the freezer burn is minimal. The best plan, however, is to prevent freezer burn in the first place.
How can freezer burn be prevented?
The two main causes of freezer burn are improper storage and freezing for too long. The easiest one to fix is the way you are storing your food.
Ensure food is cooled properly before storing
Allowing foods to cool completely before freezing can help prevent freezer burn. Storing hot foods in the freezer can raise the temperature of the freezer compartment, causing the food around it to partially thaw before refreezing and increasing the risk of freezer burn.
Ensure your storage is airtight
This is probably the most important step you can take to prevent freezer burn. Exposure to air is what causes freezer burn, and improperly wrapped food is the quickest way to expose your food to air. These tips will help you ensure your food is airtight:
1. Use wax paper instead of plastic wrap
It may be surprising, but plastic wrap is not actually that great at keeping your food airtight. It is very difficult to get a tight seal, and nearly always lets air in. As an alternative, try wrapping your food tightly in waxed paper.
2. Store your food in airtight containers
A quick and easy way to ensure your food is airtight is to store it in sealed containers, either plastic or glass. Make sure that you use the smallest possible container for the food that you wish to store, as otherwise the air in the container itself can contribute to freezer burn.
3. Try a vacuum sealer
Purchasing a vacuum sealer is the most effective way to avoid freezer burn. The process of removing all the air around fish or meat ensures that there is no room for water to evaporate in the first place.
4. Use clips to seal opened bags
Some frozen foods come in resealable bags, which is great. As long as you ensure that most of the air is squeezed out of the bag before resealing them, they do a good job of keeping food safe from freezer burn.
Other frozen foods come in bags that need to be cut open and have no way to seal after they are opened. In these cases, you can either transfer the contents to a separate bag or container, or you can use a clip to ensure the bag remains airtight. As always, ensure that any excess air is squeezed out of the bag before placing the clip.
Never thaw and refreeze
Leaving your freezer door open for too long can cause the temperature in the compartment to fluctuate, increasing ice crystal formation and resulting in freezer burn. After grabbing your favorite foods, make sure to quickly close the freezer door.
Consider unloading your new freezer items in one centralized location close to the freezer before storing them. This will reduce the number of times the door is opened and closed after a grocery trip. Keeping your freezer well-organized may also assist in reducing the amount of time the freezer door remains open.
Know the recommended freezer storage times
While the FDA has a list of recommended storage times for different types of foods, a simple thing you can do to avoid freezer burn is to avoid long-term storage altogether. Even the best-protected food can become freezer burnt over long periods of time. If you don’t think you’ll use a food item in your freezer in the next six months, don’t buy it or store it in the first place. Freezer storage keeps food fresh for a long time, but nothing can protect food from freezer burn forever.