What Is Freezer Burn and How Do You Prevent It?

Plus, is it safe to eat freezer burned food?

If you have any experience at all with frozen foods, you've likely dealt with freezer burn a time or two. The phenomenon is annoying and unpleasant, but is it unsafe? Also, can freezer burn be prevented? Here's what you need to know:

What Is Freezer Burn?

Close-Up Of Frozen Strawberry Fruits On Table
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Freezer burn is the result of a chemical process called sublimation, which is when a substance transforms from a solid to a gas without passing through the liquid state. Basically, the ice becomes a gas without first melting and evaporating. This dehydration and oxidation causes dry pockets within the food, which affects flavor and texture.

What Causes Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is caused by improper freezing practices and/or exposure to air. All foods are susceptible to this effect, but foods with higher moisture content (meats, fruits, ice cream, etc.) will develop it more quickly. Even if something is frozen perfectly, though, it will likely develop freezer burn over time.

What Does Freezer Burn Look Like?


Depending on what type of food you're working with, freezer burn can look slightly different. Meats and poultry will develop dark or gray spots with a withered and leathery texture. When they're cooked, they'll probably be tough and dry.

Fruits and veggies, meanwhile, will shrivel and become dry. Their high water content often causes ice crystals. Freezer burned ice cream will also develop ice crystals, which ruin the dessert's creamy texture.

Can You Eat Freezer Burned Food?

Frozen zucchini on the board for cutting

Yes! Freezer burned food is safe to eat. But just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Freezer burn fundamentally changes a food's chemical composition — thereby affecting its flavor and texture — in a not-so-great way. In short, freezer burn affects food's quality but not its safety.

If you simply must eat freezer burned food, try trimming off the areas that are most visibly affected and adding spices and seasonings to counteract the dulled flavor.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn

Frozen peach slices in freezer bag
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  1. Wrap food tightly. For best results, triple-wrap before you freeze: A layer of plastic wrap (or reusable freezer paper), a layer of foil, and then a freezer bag should do the trick. Remove as much air as possible before sealing. (Pro-tip: If you're dealing with an open carton of ice cream, cover the container with wrap before replacing the lid).
  2. Keep your freezer at the proper temperature. Food freezes faster at 0 degrees F or below. The faster the freeze, the smaller the ice crystals. The smaller the ice crystals, the less susceptible the surface is to freezer burn.
  3. Don't thaw more than once. Every time you thaw and refreeze something, you're increasing the likelihood of freezer burn. Freeze food in small portions so you'll only need to thaw the amount you'll use at any given time.
  4. Keep an open cup of water in your freezer. The water will slow the dehydration process by increasing the environment's humidity. Yes, the water will freeze — but it'll still slowly evaporate, which is the goal.
  5. Only open the freezer when it's absolutely necessary and close it ASAP. Constantly opening and closing your freezer door will cause the temperature inside to fluctuate, speeding up ice crystal formation. When you need something, get in and out as fast as you can.
Frozen spareribs in disposable plastic tray on black background
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