Is it safe to eat freezer-burned food? The quick answer is yes. Freezer burn is simply the result of air coming into contact with food, and while it may not look appetizing, it is usually safe to eat. However, since freezer burn often affects the flavor and texture of food, you may not want to consume food with severe freezer burn.
All foods get freezer burn eventually, but most properly stored foods should maintain their quality in the freezer for six months to a year. If you find that your frozen foods are developing freezer burn sooner than that, it's time to do a bit of investigating to root out the cause. Improperly wrapped food or a malfunctioning freezer could be the culprits.
When to Use Food With Freezer Burn
If your food only has light freezer burn and you plan to cook it thoroughly, then defrost it properly and use as planned. If certain sections have more severe freezer burn than others, you can cut these parts away before cooking. Regardless, if freezer burn is the only problem, the food will still be safe to eat.
When to Toss Food With Freezer Burn
Freezer burn may not make food unsafe to eat, but it can affect the taste, texture, and color. Severely freezer-burned food will have an off taste that is especially noticeable in raw foods. If the freezer burn is extensive, it's best to toss the food and learn from your mistakes.
Note that while freezer burn on its own does not make food unsafe to eat, foods that are frozen under improper conditions can still go bad. If the food has an off smell upon defrosting, discard it. Pay attention to how long foods have been in the freezer to ensure they are eaten at their peak and follow these tips to avoid freezer burn.
How to Avoid Freezer Burn
A few simple precautions will help to avoid freezer burn in the future, ensuring your frozen foods will be in peak condition when you're ready to use them.
Wrap Foods Correctly
Remove foods from their store packaging if you don't plan to use the food right away—especially when it comes to meat, poultry, and fish. The thin cellophane used to wrap meat isn't thick enough to keep air from getting in. Freezer paper or a freezer bag is much better suited for the job. There are specific steps you should take to repackage foods for the freezer to ensure they last as long as possible.
If you have a regular butcher that you purchase raw meat from, ask if they can wrap your order in freezer paper.
Use Freezer-Safe Containers
Not all food storage containers are designed for freezer use. Freezer-safe containers are made of thicker plastic or glass. While it may be tempting to reuse grocery store packaging to freeze foods, these types of containers aren't up to the task. Air will end up getting in, and they're just too thin to protect against the cold. The same is true for regular plastic bags. Only use bags, jars, and containers that are labeled for freezer use. While they're more expensive, you'll save money in the long run by not throwing out freezer-burned food.
Watch for Trapped Air
Air is the enemy of frozen foods. If you aren't squeezing the air out of your freezer bags before you stick them in the freezer, you're setting yourself up for early freezer burn. This is why vacuum sealers have become so popular in recent years.
Let Foods Cool
If you let hot food cool down, you can ensure that you're not trapping steam inside the packaging. Steam is not friendly to frozen food—it ends up turning into ice crystals. Plus, if food is too hot when you put it in the freezer, other foods may start to thaw out. You need to do this safely, though.
First, if you are working with soup, stew, or a large dish, divide into smaller portions. If you are working with a whole chicken, divide it into parts. Fill your sink with ice water, and place the well-sealed containers of food into the sink to cool (do not allow the sink water to leak into the containers).
The USDA recommends cooling food as rapidly as possible, either in the refrigerator or in an ice bath. Remember, bacteria grows fastest between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. See the USDA's chart of safe food temperatures for more information.
Label and Inventory
Label everything that goes into the freezer with the name of the item and date to help keep track of your frozen food. Different foods have different shelf lives in the freezer, and some last longer frozen than others (See the USDA's freezer duration chart.). For example, while bacon will last only one to two months, chicken and turkey will last for up to one year. Take note of the average freezer life for each food and consider adding this expiry date to your labels.
Foods often develop freezer burn when they get pushed to the back of the freezer and are forgotten. Start a freezer inventory list to stay on top of what you have on hand so that you can plan meals around it—and reach for the oldest frozen product first.