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Freezer Burn: What It Is & How To Prevent It

Freezer Burn: What It Is & How To Prevent It

An empty freezer with thick ice on the walls.You reach into the freezer, excited to thaw ingredients for the perfect meal, only to find that your once pristine food is now discolored and covered in pesky ice crystals. Why did this happen? And more importantly, is the food still safe to consume?

Read on to discover what freezer burn is, whether freezer-burned food is safe to eat, and how to prevent freezer frost in the first place.

What is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn occurs when food becomes dehydrated and oxidized in the freezer. Often, freezer-burned food will be discolored and covered in ice. The food’s texture may be dry or leathery on the exterior, and it may smell or taste like chemicals or plastic.

What Causes Freezer Burn on Food?

Freezer burn occurs when food is improperly stored in the freezer. It happens when the moisture in the food evaporates and then re-freezes on the surface, forming those telltale icy patches. This process is accelerated by the dry, cold air in the freezer, which encourages sublimation—the direct transition from ice to vapor without melting. As a result, your food can become dehydrated and lose its flavor and texture.

There are three main reasons why freezer burn occurs:

  • Time: Though there are ways to lessen the chances of freezer burn, freezing food for long periods nearly always results in it.
  • Poor packaging: Dry air doesn’t like to be dry. Instead, it tries to absorb moisture from anything it can. So, if your food is exposed to the freezer’s air, freezer burn is more likely.
  • Temperature fluctuation: Sublimation occurs most readily when ice is close to the melting point of water (32°F or 0°C). If you open your freezer’s door often or leave it open long enough, the food inside may warm to the point that its moisture sublimates.

Can You Eat Food That Is Freezer Burned?

We have good news and bad news — freezer-burned food is generally safe to eat. However, it may not be the most delicious thing you’ve tasted. Freezer burnt food takes on many unpleasant characteristics. Meat may be leathery, dry, and oxidized; fruits and vegetables can be wrinkled or shrunken; and nearly every type of food will assume a nearly plastic odor or taste if the freezer burn is severe enough.

How to Get Rid of Freezer Burn Taste

Fortunately, freezer-burned food doesn’t have to go to waste! There are a few techniques you can try to get rid of the unpleasant texture, flavor, and aroma of freezer burn:

  • For vegetables: Simply rinse off the ice crystals with cold water and prepare as usual. We recommend adding a little more seasoning than usual to offset any leftover freezer-burn taste.
  • For meat: Trim off the affected areas and throw them away. If the freezer burn is minor enough, the meat underneath may feel, taste, and smell like nothing ever happened. After trimming, add seasoning to camouflage any remaining side effects.
  • For fruit: Rinse the crystals off with cold water and try to incorporate freezer-burned fruit into dishes where texture doesn’t play a massive role. Smoothies and breakfast casseroles are good options, but a freezer-burned fruit salad is likely not the best choice. Alternatively, you could try dehydrating your fruit (after rinsing, of course) to remove unpleasant flavors, as well.
  • For everything: Get saucy! After following the advice above for your specific food type, incorporate your freezer-burnt ingredients into sauces, soups, or stews where their unideal characteristics are less noticeable. Never underestimate the power of a flavorful sauce when masking low-quality ingredients.

How to Stop Food From Getting Freezer Burn

There are a few potential ways to prevent freezer burn in the first place. Here are some tips to keep freezer burn at bay — from before you start cooking to after you put your food in the freezer:

  • Lower the temperature: Colder temperatures make it harder for sublimation and moisture loss to occur. Try lowering the temperature of your freezer to 32°F (0°C) or below, if possible.
  • Disable your defrost cycle: If your refrigerator automatically defrosts itself, it is more likely to cause freezer burn. Turning off the automatic defrost setting can help prevent freezer burn, but doing so means that you will need to manually defrost your freezer occasionally.
  • Wait a beat: When you put hot food in the freezer, it can raise the compartment’s overall temperature. This rise in temperature can partially thaw the food already in there, increasing the likelihood of freezer burn. To prevent this, let your freshly made food cool down to room temperature before putting it in the freezer. Just make sure to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidelines about storing food.
  • Wrap it up: The less air inside your food’s packaging, the less likely sublimation will occur. Invest in high-quality freezer bags, airtight containers, or, ideally, a vacuum sealer to ensure moisture- and vapor-tight seals around your food items. For difficult-to-seal items like ice cream tubs, place wax paper or a plastic wrap against the remaining food to minimize leftover air space in the container.
  • Label, label, label: Professional chefs everywhere practice the art of “first in, first out” (FIFO). By labeling your frozen foods with the date they first entered the freezer, you can consume the oldest first — before they experience freezer burn.
  • Guard the door: Ensure freezer food is properly sealed to prevent warm air from sneaking in and wreaking havoc on your frozen goods. It’s also a good idea to regularly clean your freezer to remove any buildup of frost or ice that could keep it from closing properly.

If freezer burn continues to be a recurring issue despite your best efforts, your freezer may not be removing moisture or staying as cold as it should. Whether it’s due to something simple like a bad refrigerator door gasket or a more complex issue like a faulty thermostat, it may be time to up your freezer game for a frost-free experience.

Feeling Freezer-Burnt Out?

Are you considering upgrading your freezer? Rent-A-Center offers a wide range of fridge and freezer options to suit your needs. Whether you need a spacious fridge with a top or bottom freezer, an upright freezer, or a compact chest freezer, Rent-A-Center offers flexible rent-to-own options to help you maintain the freshness of your food with confidence. Shop online or at your nearest storefront today!

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