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What is Freezer Burn?

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By Ollie Cartwright

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You put food in the freezer to prolong its life and prevent it from going bad. You’d think a freezer was a safe space, then? Unfortunately, there’s one major problem with storing food in the freezer, and that is freezer burn. So, what is it?

So, What Is Freezer Burn Exactly?

Freezer burn is a condition that occurs when frozen food has been damaged by dehydration and oxidation due to air reaching the food. It causes changes in the food’s colour, texture, and flavour. While it’s not harmful, it can make the food less enjoyable.

What Causes Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is a condition that occurs when frozen food is exposed to air. This is usually a result of food not being securely wrapped or sealed properly in airtight containers.

Here’s a detailed explanation of the process:

  1. Dehydration
    Freezer burn begins with sublimation when solid ice transforms directly into water vapour without first becoming liquid. This process happens in freezers, especially when the temperature fluctuates and isn’t consistently at 0°F / -18°C or below.
  2. Oxidation
    Along with dehydration, exposure to air leads to oxidation in the food. Oxidation is a reaction that happens when oxygen interacts with the food on a molecular level. This can alter the chemical structure of the food’s molecules.
  3. Ice Crystals Formation
    The dehydration and oxidation processes can cause the formation of ice crystals on the surface of the food. The water inside the food is drawn out to the surface and then frozen.

What Does Freezer Burn Look Like?

Several noticeable changes in the appearance and texture of food can identify freezer burn:

  1. Colour Changes
    One of the most noticeable signs of freezer burn is discolouration. The affected areas often appear greyish or brownish. This is especially noticeable on meats, where bright red beef, for instance, can turn a dull brown in patches where freezer burn has occurred.
Freezer Burn Colour Changes
  1. Dry Spots or Patches
    Freezer burn can cause certain areas of the food to look dried out or dehydrated. These spots may appear rough, leathery, or slightly wrinkled compared to the rest of the food.
  2. Ice Crystals
    The presence of ice crystals or a frosty layer on the surface of the food is a common sign of freezer burn. This frosty appearance comes from moisture escaping the food and freezing on its surface.
Freezer Burn Meat
  1. Texture Changes
    Although texture changes might be more difficult to spot until the food is thawed, freezer-burned areas can have a tough, leathery texture compared to unaffected areas.
Is Freezer Burn Just Ice?

No, freezer burn is not just ice. It’s a condition that occurs when food is dehydrated and oxidized due to exposure to air in the freezer, often leading to discolouration, texture changes, and ice crystal formation.

What Does Freezer Burn Taste Like?

Freezer burn can significantly affect the taste of food. The areas of food that have been freezer-burned might taste bland or lack the original flavour of the food.

This is because freezer burn dehydrates the food, and water is a major carrier of taste in food.

In addition to a lack of flavour, freezer-burned food can sometimes take on an off or unusual taste. This can be described as a slightly “off” flavour or even a somewhat sour, metallic, or cardboard-like taste.

This taste can occur due to oxidation and dehydration during freezer burn.

Freezer-burned meat may also taste a bit more gamey or have an off-putting sweetness. The change in flavour can be more noticeable in high-fat foods, as fats can become rancid over time when exposed to air.

However, the taste of freezer burn can be hard to describe precisely because it depends on the type of food, the degree of freezer burn, and individual taste perception. The best way to prevent your food from acquiring this unpleasant taste is to protect it from air exposure and consume it within a reasonable timeframe.

Can You Eat Freezer Burned Food?

Yes, you can eat freezer-burned food. Although it might not taste pleasant due to changes in flavour and texture, it is safe to consume.

Can Freezer Burned Food Make You Ill?

Freezer-burned food will not make you ill. While the quality and taste of the food might be compromised, freezer burn doesn’t make the food unsafe to eat.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the taste of freezer burn is not particularly easy without ruining the frozen food. It would involve cutting off the chunk of freezer burn and then serving the food with a strong sauce to mask the flavour.

How Do You Prevent Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn can be a real nuisance, but there are several strategies you can use to prevent it:

  1. Proper Packaging
    This is one of the most important steps in preventing freezer burn. Food should be stored in containers or bags designed for freezer storage. These are typically thicker than regular storage materials, providing a better barrier against moisture loss.
  2. Portioning
    By storing foods in serving or meal-sized portions, you can avoid exposing all your food to air each time you need to take something out of the container.
  3. Freezer Temperature
    Keep your freezer temperature at 0°F / -18°C or below. Fluctuating temperatures can cause the freeze-thaw cycle that leads to freezer burn.
  4. Avoid Keeping Foods in or Near the Door
    The temperature of the freezer door fluctuates the most, which can contribute to freezer burn. It’s better to store foods in the main part of the freezer where the temperature is more stable.
  5. Don’t Keep Foods in the Freezer for Too Long
    Even under perfect conditions, foods stored in the freezer for a very long time can eventually develop freezer burn. Try to use foods within their recommended freezer storage times.
  6. Use Vacuum Sealers
    If you freeze foods often, a vacuum sealer can be a good investment. These machines remove almost all the air from packaging, significantly reducing the risk of freezer burn.
  7. Repackage Store-bought Frozen Foods
    If you buy frozen food in a cardboard box, consider removing the food from the box and placing it in a sealable freezer bag. Cardboard doesn’t provide a great barrier against air and moisture.

Minimise Air

Regardless of what kind of food you’re freezing, the key to preventing freezer burn is reducing the food’s exposure to air. This means using airtight containers, freezer bags, or vacuum sealing and always sealing or closing the packaging properly. The less air your food comes into contact with, the less likely it is to experience freezer burn.


We have verified the information on this page using the following resources:

Science Focus

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