Freezer Burn and Food Safety

CW Services Inc: Freezer Burn and Food Safety

It’s a marvel of convenience that we can freeze food for several weeks, thaw it, cook and then enjoy it. If it’s been packaged and stored well, it should still taste great. Sometimes though, due to bad packaging, or from leaving it in the freezer too long, food can taste lifeless or worse.  If you’ve noticed white snow and discoloration on your frozen foods, you’ve probably got the dreaded freezer burn. 

What is freezer burn?  How does it happen?  How can you prevent it? 

What is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is the discoloration or other damage to frozen food due to moisture loss. It can happen to any food that’s been frozen for too long or that has not been packaged well. All foods contain water, which forms thousands of ice crystals when frozen. These crystals migrate to the surface of food. Through a process called sublimation, the crystals transform from a solid to a gas. This results in dehydration and the food becomes dry, tough and even shrivelled up. This moisture loss can cause changes in flavor and color.

Color and Texture Changes with Freezer Burn 

  • Foods with high water content (produce, poultry, meat and fish and ice cream) are affected by freezer burn more than low water content food such as nuts or seeds.
  • Discoloration from freezer burn is noticeable on most foods; poultry turns whitish, red meat turns greyish brown and may be tough and dry when cooked.
  • Vegetables and fruit turn pale or dull and crystals are likely to form.  They become dry and shrivelled and have a woody texture when cooked.
  • Cooked grains or pasta may become coated with ice and the texture may be rough.
  • Bread or cake will have a dry, rough texture. 
  • Ice cream will form ice crystals and lose its creaminess.

This Food Tastes Strange.  Is it Bad?

Freezer burn isn’t about food safety as much as it’s about food quality. Freezer burn does rob food of texture and even nutritional value, but you can cut or remove the affected portion before or after cooking. Badly freezer burnt food, however, will likely have a strange taste, perhaps picking up the taste of the packaging that it was wrapped or contained in and not be very edible. The amount of ice crystals on the food can be a hint. If there is a small layer, it’s probably fine and may not affect the taste very much. But a thick layer of crystals probably means it has either been in your freezer for a very long time, or air seeped into an improperly packaged item.

Tips for Preventing Freezer Burn

  • Dry food before storing it.  When buying pre-packaged frozen food from your grocery store, it will begin to defrost quickly and become damp on the outside. Wipe it down when you arrive home to avoid the moisture turning into frost.
  • Add a label and organize.  Add the name of the item and date of freezing. Put the older items on top or in the front of the freezer and use them first.
  • Avoid storing hot items.  Only put cool or cold foods in your freezer. Storing hot foods can lead to humidity. If you have hot foods that you need to freeze, let them cool off in the refrigerator first.
  • Package correctly.  Keeping air out of the foods you put in your freezer will help guard against freezer burn. For instance, try wrapping meats, seafood and poultry in freezer paper, then in foil, and then in a freezer bag. Make sure there is no air in the bag by pressing down on it before you seal it shut.
  • Plastic containers.  Use appropriately sized containers. The less air inside the better. Try filling as close to the top as possible. If your freezable container has a plastic lid, hold one edge of the lid up slightly and press down in the center of the lid to release any air that may be trapped in the container. Seal the lid while pressing down to prevent air from re-entering the container.
  • Plastic bags should be freezer bags or storage bags, which are generally thicker than plastic sandwich bags.
  • For prepackaged fruits and vegetables, squeeze out as much air as possible when closing or transfer into smaller freezer bags.
  • Keep the door closed!  Opening the freezer door allows cold air to escape and introduces humidity. The moisture from humidity causes frost to appear. The appliance then works harder to keep items frozen as the temperature rises. Try gathering everything you need at once if possible.
  • Maintain a consistent temperature.  Interior temperatures are key to avoiding frost in your freezer.  The interior freezer temperature should be 0 degrees F or lower. This ensures that only smaller crystals will form causing less damage to the quality of the food. 
  • Limit the amount.  The best way to avoid freezer burn is to use your frozen food faster. Only buy what you expect to use within the next 2–4 months. For more information on recommended storage times, here is a handy Food Storage Safety Chart.                  

Freezer Burn or Freezer Bad?

You can’t always tell if a frozen food is truly past its due date. However, a few tell-tale signs beyond freezer burn should be a clear indication that the food in question has one destination only — the garbage bin!

  • Odor.  Never, ever freeze food that smells even slightly off. Freezing can’t undo the damage. So for safety sake, just toss it.      
  • Spills.  Meat can be particularly problematic. If you see any pooling of juice from meat at the bottom of the freezer it will look pinkish-brown. It could mean that the freezer temperature rose above freezing, and something thawed. Or it could mean that the meat dripped prior to freezing. A thorough clean-up is needed and other food that has come in contact with the item in question should probably be tossed. 
  • Bad Odor.  After defrosting, if food smells rancid or even just slightly off, especially meat, fish or poultry, it needs to be tossed.
  • Slimy or Sticky.  If the defrosted food item feels slimy or sticky, it’s a sign that the food has gone bad. Again, it’s most likely because it thawed at some point, or was already bad before going in the freezer.

By following some basic precautions, you can keep your frozen foods tasting fresh as the day you bought them. Happy eating!

To keep your freezer and other major appliances operating at their best, call the pros at C&W Appliance Service at (855) 358-1496 or complete our online service request form.


For the very best in appliance repair and maintenance, you can count on C&W Appliance Service.