There is nothing as disappointing as going into the freezer for that ice cream you have been saving just to discover that it has formed ice crystals. Or finding your package of meat discolored with gray spots. This is caused by freezer burn.
Freezer burn is a common issue that can lead to wasted food and leave a dent in your grocery bill. It can happen to any frozen food, but what is freezer burn?
WHAT IS FREEZER BURN?
Freezer burn is what happens when the liquid inside your frozen food begins to evaporate, which dehydrates the food, leaving dry, grayish looking spots or icy crystals behind. This is when moisture escapes your food leaving it dry, rubbery, and lacking flavor.
There are many factors that can cause freezer burn from excess air in packaging to fluctuating freezer temperatures.
THE SCIENCE OF HOW FREEZER BURN HAPPENS
Just like our human bodies are made up of 60% water, your food also has a lot of water in it. When food is placed into the freezer the water inside the food wants to migrate to the coldest places.
Once the water moves to the top of the food it can become ice crystals. Those ice crystals begin to evaporate (a process called sublimation where a substance goes directly from the solid to the gas phase without turning to liquid first).
When water evaporates it leaves dry, grayish spots on meats, vegetables crusty and tough, and forms that thick frozen slimy film on top of your ice cream. Ewww, right?
These evaporated molecules can go into the air of your freezer, combine with other molecules from other foods and sometimes come back into your food again, making foods taste off or unpleasant. This is why proper packaging is vital for preserving food in your freezer.
DO ICE CRYSTALS MEAN FREEZER BURN?
When moisture from the food moves to the top of the food it changes into ice crystals.
These ice crystals can evaporate and re-freeze on the insides of packages or containers. This indicates that the food either went in at a warmer than the desired temperature, or moisture has come out of the food causing it to be dehydrated in spots.
When you see ice crystals on food, it does generally mean there is freezer burn happening on your food and can be a great warning to use the food up before the flavor can change too much.
WHY IS MY FREEZER CAUSING FREEZER BURN?
Unless your freezer is broken it generally is not the cause of freezer burn.
The real cause of your freezer burn is often user error. This can be from opening your freezer too often, setting the temperature too low, or packaging your foods with too much air or in packaging that is not airtight.
To check if it is your freezer causing freezer burn, check the seals to ensure that your freezer seals all the way around.
Get a freezer thermometer to check the temperature of your freezer to be sure that it is reaching the sub-zero temperatures needed.
To prevent freezer burn you want to keep your freezer below zero. This is why deep freezers give food a longer storage period than a freezer attached to your refrigerator unit.
Opening the freezer can cause warmer, moist air to enter the freezer. This may also become frost or ice crystals on packages as the air is cooled. Try to limit the number of times the freezer is being opened. You can use child locks to help remind your family to check that the door is closed when they are done using the freezer.
WHAT DOES FREEZER BURN LOOK LIKE?
People often ask me how to tell if chicken is freezer burned? Or what about freezer burned vegetables? Freezer burn can look different for different kinds of foods.
Sometimes it will appear as gray or white colored dry spots and can have a collection of ice crystals around it. Sometimes it can also look slimy or create a shiny film, like what you see on freezer-burned ice cream.
Here are some different images of freezer-burned foods.
Freezer Burn Meat: Meats like steak, ground beef, and pork often get grey spots where freezer burn has taken hold. This will have a less than pleasant taste and rubbery texture.
Freezer Burn on Chicken: Freezer burnt chicken can take on an old leathery texture and turn a dull off white or even fully white color. Look for dry spots that can happen and ice crystal spots.
Freezer Burn on Vegetables: Freezer burnt vegetables turn into a solid block from the moisture causing everything to melt together. You will also see plenty of ice crystals formed in and around freezer burnt produce.
Freezer Burn on Ice Cream: Freezer burn ice cream can take on a thick rubbery slime-like texture with ice crystals on top. This is common on the edges of your ice cream from when the temperature fluctuates in your freezer.
HOW TO TELL IF FOOD YOU BUY AT THE STORE IS FREEZER BURNED?
When you pick up a bag of frozen vegetables, if the inside feels all clumped together in one big lump, it’s probably got freezer burn. In this case, skip that bag and grab another one.
Look for grayish dry spots or ice crystals on food with see-through packaging to avoid freezer burn steak, chicken or other meats. Skip over these selections in favor of fresher food with no discoloration or ice crystals.
IS IT SAFE TO EAT FOOD WITH FREEZER BURN ON IT?
Is it safe to eat freezer-burned food? Yes, actually, it is safe to eat food that’s been freezer burned. Freezer burn is basically food that is simply getting dehydrated. However, the texture can be dry, rubbery and chewy and you might notice an unpleasant flavor when you taste it.
CAN YOU GET SICK FROM FREEZER BURN FOOD?
No, you can’t get sick from eating properly prepared food that has freezer burn on it. Food that’s frozen at 0 degrees or less doesn’t grow bacteria, so it can’t spoil or begin to rot. Freezer burn is food that is simply getting dehydrated, not growing bacteria.
HOW TO GET RID OF FREEZER BURNED TASTE?
If you are going to be eating freezer-burned food, make sure and cut off any freezer burned dry spots or sections first, especially on meat. Rinse off the ice crystals, and thaw as usual. Then you can cook & eat the food as directed.
For freezer-burned ice cream, simply cut off the top film or area that is freezer burned.
Sometimes by removing the freezer burn areas, you won’t notice a difference at all. However sometimes, depending on how long something has been freezer burned, it may still have an unpleasant taste or slight flavor changes still.
Meats can often be saved from issues after falling prey to freezer burn by being cooked in a slow cooker for 8+ hours or ran through the Instant Pot to rehydrate, tenderize, and flavor the meat with herbs and spices deep into the affected meat.
HOW TO PREVENT FREEZER BURN?
There are several ways to prevent freezer burn from using food sealing machines to just freezing food quickly. To read them all check out my in-depth guide 13 Simple Tips to Prevent Freezer Burn.
Two of the biggest mistakes I see people make when freezing food are not removing the air from the bags or containers before freezing and putting hot food into the freezer. Let’s talk about how doing these two things correctly will help you prevent freezer burn.
1. GETTING THE AIR OUT
Air is the enemy to freezing food. If you remove the opportunity for moisture to evaporate you will not get freezer burn.
Using a vacuum sealing machine will give you the best results, but those can be rather pricy. Instead, if you are using freezer-safe bags, just press all the air out of the bag before freezing.
Also be careful not to get dings or holes on your frozen food bags or air will get in and create it like in the ground beef picture above.
If you are freezing items in baking pans or containers, use a piece of plastic wrap to cover the food first, pressing down to remove the air. Then finish off by wrapping the pan in aluminum foil or adding the container lid.
2. FREEZING MEALS QUICKLY
To avoid having extra moisture evaporation make sure you don’t add food that is hot to the freezer. The steam will evaporate and turn into ice crystals.
For best results cool your food completely to room temperature or place in the fridge until cool then place in the freezer. Ideally, you want your food to freeze solid within 2 hours to avoid it.
See more tips on how to prevent freezer burn here.
DOES VACUUM SEALING PREVENT FREEZER BURN?
You bet it does! The vacuum sealer machine bags are made specifically to keep air from coming in and out of the bags. This makes it so moisture cannot leave the food or evaporate out, thus preventing freezer burn.
Note: Regular store-bought plastic freezer bags are made from polyethylene, which moisture and other gases can get through. That being said, I still freeze my meals often in freezer-safe bags, getting as much air as is possible out and have gotten little if any freezer burn this way.
I hope these tips help!
Interested in freezer meals? Here is my post on 15 Actually EASY freezer meal recipes you will LOVE! Also my post here of how to make 50 freezer meals in a day.