What Is Freezer Burn And Is It Safe To Eat?

By:    Published: January 29, 2012

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What is Freezer Burn?

Why does meat change color and texture after being in the freezer for a long period of time? Many people have seen it on their frozen foods, but not many know that it has an actual name. "Freezer burn" occurs when a food that has been left in the freezer loses its moisture. A freezer burn takes on the appearance of discoloration, causing red meat to turn grayish brown, or chicken to become darker. The discoloration indicates that the frozen food has suffered damage caused by dehydration and oxidation.

Freezing Foods

The purpose of freezing foods is for preserving them for extended periods of time. Properly freezing your food can help prevent bacteria and microorganisms from spoiling the food, which can lead to sickness if eaten. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), food that is constantly stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit is considered safe, though the quality may suffer depending on the duration of freezer storage.

Freezing raw meat and poultry is more effective for maintaining quality than storing cooked versions, since the cooking process can cause the meat and poultry to lose moisture. This means that cooked foods that are stored in the freezer have a higher chance of being affected by freezer burn, and should not be stored as long as their raw counterparts.

Causes of Freezer Burn

When foods are kept in the freezer, the water molecules within them begin to form ice crystals. Food dehydration occurs when these water molecules move to the coldest area of the freezer, which is typically the sides or the back of your freezer; just check the portion of your freezer that seems to be accumulating the most ice or ice crystals. The longer you keep food in the freezer, the more molecules will transfer from the foods to the colder area of the freezer. Freezer burn is the end result of frozen food that has lost all of its water molecules.

Is Freezer Burn Safe to Eat?

Although the appearance might make you think otherwise, foods that have suffered freezer burn are, in fact, safe to eat. Many people tend to throw out entire packages of frozen food upon the mere sight of discoloration believing that the meat has gone bad or spoiled; however, this is not the case. Often times, only a certain portion of the food suffers from freezer burn, depending on the packaging, and these portions can be removed and discarded. However, you can still consume the entire serving, including the freezer burned areas, but the quality of food will be affected since you're basically eating dry meat.

Ways to Prevent Freezer Burn

If the mere sight of freezer burn is enough to compel you to throw out an entire steak or chicken, there are precautionary measures you can take to prevent it:

  • Make sure that your food is tightly sealed and wrapped. Use sealable plastic bags and double-wrap your frozen food to prevent water molecules from escaping.
  • Do not store foods in the freezer for extended periods of time. The longer a food stays in the freezer, the higher the risk of freezer burn.
  • Check your freezer's temperature and make sure it is set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Fluctuating temperatures will increase the risk of freezer burn.
  • Avoid placing hot food directly into the freezer. This will cause a change in the freezer's temperature.
  • Do not leave the freezer door open.
  • Store frozen foods in air-tight containers or use vacuum packaging.
  • Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the freezer to keep the freezer's temperature stable.

Bottom Line

Though unsightly, freezer burn on foods is not dangerous and is considered safe to eat. However, frozen foods heavily affected by freezer burn should be thrown away for quality purposes. Just imagine cooking a food that has already lost all of its moisture. The taste, aroma and texture of a food suffering from freezer burn are surely unpleasant. However, frozen food can still be salvaged of only a small portion has been affected by freezer burn. In that case, you can simply cut and discard the freezer burned areas and still enjoy the full flavor and quality of the rest of the food.

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