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Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat? We ask a food safety expert

Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat? You might have been left asking yourself this if you’ve encountered signs of freezer burn on your chicken. Even the best freezers (opens in new tab) can leave your meat with freezer burn if it's been left in there for too long or has accidentally been left uncovered. 

There’s no question that freezer burn can be a nuisance, changing the appearance of meat that was fresh when frozen. We’ve asked our food safety expert for her advice on how to spot it – as well as asking, is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat? 

Christina Ratcliffe is the Managing Director of The Food Safety Company (opens in new tab), a business that provides food safety consultancy services to food and beverage businesses. Having spent 25 years as a government food inspector she now uses this expert knowledge to run The Food Safety Company, giving expert advice to businesses in order to ensure that they are fully compliant with food safety and achieve top food hygiene scores.

In her capacity as a food safety expert, Christina helps to advise on best practice for professional food businesses. This includes the correct way to store and prepare food professionally, including meats such as chicken. Here she helps us understand how to spot freezer burn on your frozen chicken and answers: is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?

Spotting freezer burn on chicken

Despite the name ‘freezer burn’ the food doesn’t exactly resemble chicken burned using heat. The burn is colloquial reference to the fact that like when charred, the chicken suffers from dehydration, losing moisture and visually shriveling. 

Christina explains how this happens and what to look out for on chicken stored in the freezer, “Freezer burn happens when food is frozen for a long time or food is not packaged properly so the cold air gets to the food and causes drying of the food and lead to changes in texture and flavor. This can be seen clearly when frozen raw chicken turns white and opaque or when food has lots of ice crystals on it.”

Signs of freezer burn on chicken

1. White or whitish gray areas
2. Opaque color
3. Ice crystals forming on it

Watch out for these signs occurring and prevent them by keeping food covered in packaging or air tight containers. Use food by its use-by date in order to prevent it being in the freezer for too long, exposing it to freezer burn.

Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?

What the expert says…

We asked Christina, ‘Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?’. This is what our food safety expert had to say, “Freezer-burnt foods may look unappetizing and have an unpleasant texture and off-flavor, but they’re still safe to eat if you decide to eat it and it will not make you poorly.”

It may come as a surprise, but, despite looking unappealing, it’s not unsafe to eat freezer burnt chicken. However, as Christina explained, the dehydration that has occurred on the freezer burned parts of the chicken will have deteriorated the texture and changed the flavor. 

While it may be safe to eat, it won’t taste as good; with people who have eaten freezer burnt chicken reporting that it has a musty flavor. Our advice would be to dispose of the meat if it is significantly freezer burned. However, if it has only affected a part of the chicken you may wish to defrost it and cut out the freezer burned section. 

The basic change in chicken that has become freezer burned is that it lacks moisture. The contact with the air has left it devoid of enough water content in those parts and that has caused physical changes to the chicken. While this undoubtedly changes the flavor and texture of the chicken, it is not necessarily harmful, just less pleasant.

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Tanisha started her career in commercial retail buying for one of Amazon UK’s Top 10 revenue grossing online homeware retailers. Years spent obsessing over homeware products made it an easy career switch to writing about them. Her freelance career has seen her craft customer-focused web content for brands big and small, as well as writing articles in the health, lifestyle, home and retail sectors.

With contributions from