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Is Freezer Burned Meat Safe to Eat?

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By Elizabeth Masterman

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So you’ve taken some meat out of the freezer and noticed it doesn’t look right. If your meat has a patch that looks shrivelled or discoloured, or it’s covered in ice crystals, it’s probably got freezer burn. So, is freezer burned meat safe to eat?

Can You Eat Freezer Burned Meat?

Freezer burn is usually caused by food coming into contact with the air and becoming dehydrated. Freezer-burned meat is still completely safe to eat, but the taste and texture may be affected.

What Causes Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn occurs when food gets dried out. This is usually caused by air getting to the food through a hole in the packaging or because it has been frozen for over a year.

It can also occur in particularly fatty meats, like duck or salmon with the skin on, or sausages. Here the fat can oxidise and go rancid, no matter how well-wrapped, but this generally only happens if the meat is stored in the freezer for a year or more.

Finally, it can happen if the temperature in your freezer rises above -18oC, for example, if the freezer door is open for too long, or if there is a power cut or a fault with the freezer.

What Does Freezer Burn Look Like?

Start by looking at the packaging – a tear or hole in the packaging would suggest that air has been allowed to get to the food.

If you froze it in its original packaging or wrote the date you repackaged it, this may also give you a clue. Food is more likely to get freezer burned the longer it has been frozen, and anything in there over a year is very likely to be damaged.

Freezer Burn on Sausages

Next, look for a layer of ice crystals on the surface of the food itself. When moisture leaves the surface of the food, it will immediately turn to ice, which is why food that has become dehydrated in the freezer will often have a thin layer of ice on it.

Then look for any patches with a different texture, such as wrinkling or puckering, or colour changes. Red meats tend to go grey or brown, while poultry, fish and vegetables tend to get pale or white patches.

Another sign can be the smell. This is distinct from the smell of spoiled meat, which is usually unpleasant and overpowering. Freezer-burned food will often have a plasticky or stale smell.

How Can You Avoid Freezer Burn?

The best way to avoid freezer burn is to ensure your food is securely wrapped.

Much of the packaging we buy our food in from the supermarket, such as the plastic wrap around meat, fish and poultry, is not designed to be frozen, so it’s worth repackaging it in specifically made freezer bags or air-tight containers.

Use Zip-Loc Bags

Ensure you squeeze as much air out as you can. One way to do this is to put the food in the bag, slide the zip nearly all the way, and then lower the bag into a large container of water, leaving just the open corner above the water.

The water pressure will force all the air out, so you only need to remove the air from that final corner before zipping shut the bag.

Even foods that are bought from the freezer section become vulnerable once opened. For example, a box of fish fingers could be transferred to a sealable container, and a bag of frozen vegetables could be placed in a sealable freezer bag.

Ziploc Bag for Berries

Include the Date

When repackaging food, write the date on the new packaging. It’s a good idea to keep a list of what’s in your freezer and what date it was frozen, so you can avoid keeping anything frozen for too long.

While most foods can technically be frozen indefinitely, the taste and texture will start to deteriorate, so it’s a good idea to store things for no more than three to six months.

Avoid Freezing Warm Foods

It’s also important to make sure food has cooled before you put it in the freezer, as putting warm food in the freezer can raise the temperature in the appliance and cause items nearby to start to thaw.

Can You Get Sick from Eating Meat with Freezer Burn?

No, as long as freezer burn is the only thing wrong with it, it will not make you sick.

However, if the meat was already contaminated when it went in the freezer, or if it has not been frozen correctly, for example, if the freezer is faulty, or if the meat was allowed to defrost and refreeze, then it could make you ill.

Freezing does not kill bacteria, it simply makes them inactive, and as soon as the food is defrosted, it can begin to multiply again. Spoiled meat is usually pretty easy to spot due to its unpleasant odour. If in any doubt, don’t risk it.

How Do You Remove Freezer Burn Taste?

If you can, remove any visible damage by trimming it off. You might need to think of creative ways to use the food to try and mask the flavour.

Herbs, spices and marinades can help to cover up minor changes to the flavour of the meat.

If appropriate, using meat in a stew or casserole will give it chance to absorb moisture and will help avoid that leathery texture associated with freezer burn. Another option for meat is to mince it and turn it into burgers, meatballs or kebabs.

For freezer-burned fruits, a crumble or a smoothie might be the best way to disguise changes in consistency, while spices can liven up the flavour. For damaged vegetables, soup or broth could be a good option.

If you need further help removing the tangy, sour flavour of freezer burn, check out these tips.

If you have more questions about freezer burn and how safe it is to consume, then have a look at these FAQs:

Can You Cut Off Freezer Burn?

While freezer-burned food is safe to eat, it can affect the flavour and texture, so if you can, it’s worth trimming off any visible damage if it’s only minor.

Can You Eat 2-Year-Old Frozen Meat?

Even if it’s safe to eat, you’ll find the flavour entirely off as it will almost certainly have become impacted by freezer burn. We would avoid eating meat that has been frozen for this long.

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