We've all experienced freezer burn: Those unpleasant, crystallized or dull spots that pop up on all kinds of items in our freezer, from ice cream to meat. Here's what causes it and how to prevent it.
Although freezer burn doesn't technically ruin your frozen food, it does make it unpleasant to eat. With a few simple steps, you can prevent it and keep frozen foods at their freshest.
Learn the ins and outs of freezing in this freezing primer >>
Why it happens
Freezer burn occurs when the food item in question is exposed to air so the water molecules evaporate (well, technically, sublimate), and the food dries out and oxidizes.
What it looks like
Sometimes freezer burn takes the form of clumps of ice crystals on the surface of a food (think ice cream that's been in the fridge too long). Alternately, most often with red meat, it can change the color of the surface and dry it out.
What it means
Although unpleasant, freezer burn does not mean the food is unsafe to eat. For ice cream, just scrape those top crystals off, and you're good as new. It can change the flavor and texture of meat, so cut off the affected area if it's small enough and defrost as usual.
How to prevent it
There are a number of simple ways to prevent freezer burn:
- Tightly seal all items to be frozen in airtight containers. These can be heavy duty freezer bags or plastic containers. Be sure to leave a little extra room in the container to allow for the item to expand when frozen. Otherwise, it could break the seal of the bag or container and allow freezer burn to happen.
- If you are freezing leftovers, make sure that they are fully cooled before wrapping them and putting them in the freezer.
- Make sure the freezer is set to 0 degrees F or lower. Keep the freezer temperature as consistent as possible by opening the freezer door only when necessary and not leaving it open for long (don't stick your head in there to cool down!).
- Label everything in the freezer with the date that you put it in there. Check out the guidelines at FoodSafety.gov to see how long different food items will safely keep in the freezer.
More food storage tips
How to freeze anything
How to keep food fresh for as long as possible
Refrigerator refresher course