Freezer burn is one of the most frustrating parts of food storage for me. I buy meats on sale to save money and need them to last until I use them. With current meat shortages preventing freezer burn is vital for keeping our food fresher longer so I don’t have to worry about how I will feed our family if it becomes hard to find the food we need.
What is freezer burn?
If you allow the liquid inside your frozen food to evaporate, the food will become dehydrated, leaving behind dry, gray spots or crystals of ice. Freezer burn occurs when moisture is released from molecules that evaporate, leaving the foods dried out. If you keep food in the freezer too long, it may become rubbery and spoiled, and take on the flavors and smells of other items.
The food we eat contains water, just like all living things and all things that were once living. Water is attracted to the coldest parts of food once placed in the freezer.
During the movement of water near the top of the food, ice crystals can form. There is often an association between this and freezer burn. My grandmother always thought this was freezer burn but it tends to happen before freezer burn fully set in making it a great warning indicator. In addition to leaving grayish, dusty spots on the surface of meat, they also turn vegetables tough and crusty and leave behind a slimy film on top of ice cream after they evaporate.
As these molecules evaporate, they can mix with other molecules from other foods in your freezer, producing a mixture of flavors for anything that isn’t sealed tightly in an airtight container. This is the cause of the strange taste of freezer-burnt food.
What does freezer burn look like?
Meats – Freezer burnt meats will have grey esh spots that have a rough texture. If you catch meats when crystals have begun to form but the meat has no greyed yet you can cook the meat and properly seal for refreezing.
Produce – Frozen bags of fruits and vegitables will contain a large batch of crystals often in the corners of the bags. VEgtiables that had warmed and refrozen are more likely to have freezer burn and will be lumped together in clumps. If freezer burn has advanced on your produce it will have a dry, tough, and crusty texture.
Ice Cream – Freezer burnt ice cream has crystals inside th packaging and tends to have a slimy film on the air exposed areas of the ice cream. The outer edges of ice cream freezer burn easily but this out er par can be removed wile the inner ice cream remains intact.
Eggs – Another thing you may notice freezer burn happens very easily with is eggs. If I need to freeze eggs for storage I prefer to vacuum seal them after they are ready to prevent the slimy texture and odd flavor eggs take on when left in the freezer for a relatively short period of time.
How can you tell if food is freezer burnt?
Make sure frozen foods do not have freezer burn before cleaning out the freezer and before buying them. We do a deep freezer clean out every 6 months or so to ensure our food is in good shape despite the fact many foods will last much longer. do not buy frozen veggies is content of a bag is clumped together is probably freezer burn This is because the food has thawed and refrozen to lead to it’s solid-state. You should also avoid foods with transparent packaging that have patches of gray or ice crystals. This is common to see in frozen meat products that have previously thawed and refrozen or have poor packaging.
What are the crystals on my food?
Water from the food ends up turning into ice crystals once it reaches the surface. Ice crystals can refreeze on packages or containers after they evaporate. The food either went into the oven at a higher temperature than desired, or a great deal of moisture has left it, causing some spots to be dehydrated. Generally speaking, ice crystals on food indicate that it has begun to freezer burn. If you catch this soon enough you can cook it and use or refreeze with better packaging before the food is ruined.
Can you save freezer burnt food?
It depends on how severe the freezer burnt food is and how you plan to use it whether or not you can save it. The food can often be saved by simply adding moisture when cooking if you catch freezer burn at the beginning when crystals form. If you steam vegetables or toss some water in when sauteeing them, you can use this food in a soup or stew. Slow cookers and Instant Pots are great for cooking mildly freezer burnt meats as they add plenty of fluid to the food along with heat to rehydrate it.
Leaving the food to sit for an extended period of time may cause it to come into contact with other items stored in your freezer that cannot be saved and receive an unpleasant taste and smell. Regardless of the method you use to cook these disfavored foods, the blended flavors will take center stage and spoil the entire dish.
To save things like ice cream that has become freezer burnt simply cut off the top or dig it out with an ice cream scoop. The lower layers will still be in great shape.
Can freezer burn food make you sick?
No freezer burn will not make you sick though it will drastically affect the flavor of your food depending on the severity. Food that has remained frozen even if slightly warmed here and there has not been able to rot so the food is safe to eat. It is usually possible to rehydrate dehydrated food from inside a freezer, but if the food has been contaminated by odors from the inside of the freezer, its taste will likely be unpleasant.
How to prevent freezer burn
I will never forget how annoyed my grandmother would get over the crystals forming on her food only for me to one day learn that the things she was doing to try and prevent freezer burn were causing it. She used to turn her freezer down and wrap everything in layer after layer of plastic grocery bags only to get angrier and angrier by the day when the problem just kept getting worse. She was the textbook example of what not to do to prevent freezer burn.
Vacuum seal your food to prevent freezer burn – It is often the case that the food purchased at the grocery store has not been vacuum sealed with a vacuum sealer. I do love that the beef products at our local aldi are vacuum sealed and ready for the freezer. As a result, the food will cool faster when packaged with air than when it is packaged with your food. The moisture will migrate toward the air pockets, causing crystals to form. An air tight vacuum seal prevents this. Use vacuum sealer bags made for the freezer since they are made of a different material than zipper freezer bags that allow air to enter over time. Vacuum sealing has been my best tool for preventing freezer burn.
Freezer food fast – Make sure your food is completely cool before freezing. Using this method, you will be able to freeze food faster and prevent freezer burn. You can use a deep freezer to freeze foods you plan on storing in your main freezer even if it is just for initial freezing. In addition to being cooler, a deep freezer can help you freeze food faster than the freezer attached to your refrigerator. When you quickly freeze your food, less time is needed for the water to escape, thereby preventing freezer burn.
If you do not have a deep freezer set your freezer to the coldest appropriate setting and be sure to refrigerate your food before you freeze it to speed freesing time. Placing food int eh freezer in a single layer can make freezing faster.
Keep your freezer temp steady – You should keep your freezer at or below 0 degrees at all times in order to prevent freezer burn. It is important to make sure that your freezer is at the correct temperature using a freezer thermometer. Make sure you don’t adjust the settings on your freezer to prevent it from getting too warm. If you have kids consider taping over the controls to make it harder for young kids to change the freezer temperature.
Keep the door closed – A door opened in a freezer may cause a significant amount of humidity and heat to accumulate. When the air cools, packages may also develop frost or ice crystals. You should limit the number of times you open the freezer so you do not cause freezer burn. With a house full of kids this can become an issue in the summertime when the kids tend to open the freezer to grab ice over and over, or simply to feel the cold air after running inside. One trick I have learned works well is to put a child lock on the freezer. This keeps young kids out and reminds older ones to ensure the door is properly closed.