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What is Freezer Burn? Causes? How to Prevent It?

A vegetable with freezer burn covered with ice.

You’ve experienced freezer burn. You open your freezer, and pull out your favorite food. You are disappointed to discover that it looks much different than it did when you put it in. 

Perhaps it’s covered in ice crystals, or the color of the food has changed. Perhaps you consider throwing it out, or perhaps you wonder if it’s ok to eat it anyway. Most of all, you wonder how you can prevent it from happening again. 

What is Freezer Burn?

A freezer with icicles and frozen goods.

Freezer burn, in simple terms, occurs due to moisture loss. This can cause ice crystals to form. It can also change the appearance, texture, and taste of your food. 

All About the Water

All foods contain water, although some contain much more water than others. This is why foods like fruits, ice cream, and meats will develop freezer burn quickly. They have a high moisture, or water, content. 

What happens when you put water in the freezer? It freezes, of course.  This is how frozen foods become frozen. 

The Sublination Process

The sublimation process is similar to evaporation. However, in sublimation, things change from a solid to gas state. Evaporation causes them to go from a liquid state to a gas state. 

When your food undergoes sublimation, the water inside the food goes from a solid, or frozen state, to a gas state. At this point, the moisture is in the air, instead of inside the food. 

This causes the food to lose moisture, which can affect its taste and quality. 

Often, the water will turn to a gas, and then back into a solid state after it leaves the food. This causes ice crystals to appear on the outside of the food, which is the most identifiable symptom of freezer burn. 

In addition to the food losing moisture, which leads to dehydration, oxygen replaces the water. This affects the taste and texture of the food. 

How Does Freezer Burn Affect Food?

Vegetable damaged by a freezer burn on a plate.

When it comes to freezer burn, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that freezer burn is not dangerous. You can’t get sick from eating freezer burned food. However, this doesn’t mean that you will want to eat it. 

One issue with freezer burn is that it affects the texture of food. The dehydration can cause the food to become tough. 

It also affects the taste. As the oxygen molecules replace  water, the tastes from the air in the freezer will find their way into the food. At the same time, the food will lose some of its taste. 

Lastly, freezer burn affects the appearance of the food. You may notice ice crystals on the outside of the food. The food may also be discolored or gray in appearance.  

How Freezer Burn Affects Meat

Meat on a Styrofoam plate covered with ice.

Meat is at a high risk of freezer burn. Tests on chicken breasts found that frozen chicken breasts lost the most moisture between 2 and 6 months after freezing. 

After 8 months, the breasts were 31% tougher than fresh breasts. That’s a big difference in the taste and quality of your chicken and overall meal. 

Meats, particularly beef, will often develop dark brown or gray areas. These areas will be very tough or leathery. You can expect these areas to be dry and tough when cooked. 

Poultry, like chicken or turkey, will become gray or beige. They may develop white blotches that look like fat, but unfortunately, are not. Sometimes poultry develops a honeycomb structure when freezer burned. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Meat with freezer burn on plastic zip lock.

Freezer burn typically affects fruits and vegetables more than it does meat. They freeze very well initially, due to their high water content. However, over time, they will become dry and shriveled as they continue to lose moisture. 

You may notice that they take on a mushy texture once they thaw. They will be flat, and seem deflated. 

Ice Cream 

Ice cream is susceptible to freezer burn as well. It will typically develop on the top of the ice cream, particularly after it’s opened. You may also notice ice crystals on the outside of the package.  

Ice cream won’t lose it’s color, but you will see ice crystals on the top of the dessert. Ice crystals will form throughout the ice cream. This affects the texture of the ice cream, and it can also affect the taste.  

Preventing Freezer Burn

Different kinds of vegetables in their containers.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to prevent freezer burn completely. However, you can greatly reduce the chances of pulling freezer burned food from your freezer with proper storage techniques

Use the Right Containers 

Using the right containers for freezing food, and the correct  process, helps keep your food safe from the air. If air can’t get into the food, moisture can’t escape. This means freezer burn can’t occur. 

Eventually, air will find its way in nearly any  container, but food frozen in the proper containers will last much longer without freezer  burn. 

Airtight Tupperware containers are a great option. If you use Ziploc bags, be sure to use freezer bags, instead of storage bags. Freezer bags are thicker, which helps keep air out. 

The best methods for freezing food require removing the air from the bag or container before freezing. You can purchase a vacuum seal system, which is excellent for preventing freezer burn. 

You can push most of the air out of a Ziploc bag by flattening it, leaving only a small opening until the air has escaped. To remove the air from a container, you can try using a straw to suck it out. 

If you are freezing foods you bought from the  store, check to see if they are already packaged for freezing. Basically, if you purchased it in the freezer section, it’s safe to freeze as is. 

If you purchase it in a room temperature or refrigerated section, it’s not packaged for freezing. You’ll need to put it into an appropriate container first. 

Wrap it Up

Meat with rosemary and pepper with wrapping paper.

This is one of the simpler ways to prevent freezer burn. Wrapping your food with wax paper, aluminum foil, or even plastic wrap can help keep freezer burn at bay. 

Wax paper is the best option, because aluminum foil and plastic wrap can stick to your food when you pull it out of the freezer. However, all three are effective. 

Just remember you’ll still need to use a storage container or Ziploc bag. Just wrap the food up, and then place it into your preferred container. 

Another option is to use grocery bags. In fact, you can use all three methods for maximum protection. To use grocery bags, you’ll start by placing it in the container. If you choose to wrap it, wrap it and then place it in the container. 

Now, you’ll put the item in a grocery bag. Wrap the bag up. You can often twist the bag, and then bring it back around the food. Tie if desired. This will add a bit more protection, because it puts an extra layer between the cold and your food.  

Keep the Temperature Stable 

Keeping the temperature of your freezer as consistent as possible will help prevent freezer burn. There are a few ways to do this. First, open your freezer as little as possible. When you open the freezer, the cold air escapes, causing the temperature to rise. 

You should also be sure that the freezer closes properly. A slightly ajar freezer door can spell big problems. 

Lastly, don’t put hot foods in your freezer. This raises the temperature  inside the freezer. In fact, it’s best to refrigerate items rather than placing them into the freezer at room temperature. This extra step can make a big difference. 

Lower the Temperature

A temperature meter for freezers.

This is one reason why food keeps better in deep freezers. They maintain a colder temperature than an upright freezer. Food and water freezes at 32 degrees. 

It may be tempting to turn your freezer thermostat up to save on energy costs, but you’ll pay for it with freezer burn. Keeping your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit can slow the sublimation process drastically, which greatly reduces freezer burn. 

Use It Quickly 

No matter how well you store your freezer foods, they will develop freezer burn eventually. Experts recommend using any frozen food within six months. 

Keep in mind that food stored in a deep freeze will keep longer, because it has less air circulation. You probably open it less as well, which helps keep the temperature constant. 

There are a few ways to ensure you are using your frozen foods in a timely manner. First, date your foods when placing them in the freezer. Place the newest foods in the back, and move older foods to the front. 

If you don’t think you’ll use it within six months, store it in a deep freeze. Otherwise, it’s probably best not to buy the item. 

Don’t Add too Much to Your Freezer 

This has two components. First, don’t overfill your freezer. It won’t function properly, which makes freezer burn more likely. 

Second, don’t put too many items in your freezer at one time. Allow things to freeze in small batches. If food’s already frozen, this isn’t an issue. However, every item that needs to be frozen will raise the temp of the freezer slightly. Adding many items that need to be frozen can raise it significantly.  

What is Freezer Burn FAQs

How can you fix freezer burn? 

There are a few  things you can do to salvage freezer burned food. First, cut away any areas with visible freezer burn. These are the areas most affected. Next, add herbs, sauces, or seasonings to your food. These can help compensate for the loss of taste. 

What does freezer burn taste like?

Just like scorched foods, freezer burn has its own flavor. You’ll notice a loss of flavor in your food. You may taste an  unpleasant ice-like flavor. It may also have an odd aftertaste. 

Should you eat freezer burned food? 

Freezer burn doesn’t make the food dangerous. It won’t make you ill in any way, so you can eat it. Whether or not you should depends on the severity of the freezer burn, and your personal fortitude.