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Is freezer burn safe to eat?

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

If you've ever cleared out your freezer and discovered long-forgotten pieces of meat, fruit or veg, you might be wondering: is freezer burn safe to eat? We might be concerned that the food will be spoiled and may cause us harm, so read on to discover what you should do about food affected by freezer burn.

Freezer burn is a change in the appearance, texture and appearance of food that is caused by a loss of moisture inside the food. It can happen to food that has been in a freezer for a long time. 

When food is frozen, the water content inside it is transformed into ice crystals. These crystals gradually move to the outside edges of the piece of food and then out of the food and to the coldest part of the best freezers (opens in new tab). The process is known as ‘sublimation,’ and is similar to evaporation.

This loss of water via sublimation means that the food itself becomes more dehydrated. This can have the effect of making the food appear shriveled up, tough and dry. It can also change the color or flavor of the food, all of which is not ideal when you want to cook something delicious.

How to prevent freezer burn

The best way to prevent freezer burn is:

Vigilance: Keep a good check on the contents of your freezer and use up the oldest things first. 

 Temperature: Make sure your freezer is at the optimum temperature of 00F (-180C) or lower. This freezes food more quickly, allowing smaller ice crystals to form, which are less likely to affect the quality of your food

• Packaging: Make sure your food is well packaged before putting it in the freezer – remove as much air as possible from the packaging, use smaller containers and cover the top of foods like ice cream with cling wrap.

Is freezer burn safe to eat?

Storing foods correctly in your freezer can help to prevent freezer burn.  (Image credit: Getty Images)

• Keep it closed: Opening and closing the freezer too often causes fluctuations of temperature. Only open it when you need to. 

• Labelling: Make sure all food is well labelled with the type of food and the date on which it was frozen.

• Buying wisely: Your food should only be in the freeze for a maximum of two to four months, so don’t bulk buy more than you can use in that time – even if there is an amazing deal on offer!

Is freezer burn safe to eat? 

Much of the food that is affected by freezer burn is perfectly safe to eat, though it will not taste or look as good as food that has been recently frozen. 

Food that has been frozen at lower than 0ºF will not cause you to be affected by food poisoning, as freezing prevents harmful bacteria from flourishing. However, you should ensure that food is perfectly fresh when you put it into the freezer. 

What the expert says…

Denise Rion is Head of Technical from the British Frozen Food Federation, an advisory body that helps consumers get the best out of their frozen food. She says: “While freezing food is a great way to preserve it, sometimes the quality of our food can be affected, especially if the item has been left in the freezer for a long time. When you find a piece of food with freezer burn, make sure you thoroughly defrost it, then trim or cut off any parts of the food that look affected. The rest should be safe to use.”

Freezing, like any other method of preserving food such as canning, drying and pickling, does affect the quality and flavor of the food. However, when done correctly and swiftly it can keep food tasting fresh for several months.

If some of the food looks visibly dry or discolored, cut off those areas. They will be very dry and tough, especially on something like meat. Meat, poultry and fish may have patches that look greyish-white or dark brown and may appear leathery. 

Fruit and vegetables may appear withered and wrinkled and might also have visible ice crystals on them. They may be tougher when cooked. Carbs such as pasta, rice and grains and baked goods like cakes and bread may become dry, shriveled, rougher and less appetizing. Ice cream can develop ice crystals in it, causing it to lose its creamy, smooth texture. 

Freezer burn, while it does affect the look and feel of your frozen food, does not mean that the food is unsafe to eat. While changes due to dehydration and the formation of ice crystals may make food tough and leathery, you can make a few simple changes to the food to be able to eat it safely – trim the affected areas and consider cooking in a way that will tenderize, such as making a stew. 

Preventing freezer burn by adequately wrapping, labelling and using food correctly is by far the best way to manage your frozen food stores. 

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Sally J. Hall is an editor and journalist who has written for many newspapers, magazines and websites on a wide range of subjects within the medical, parenting, and consumer product markets; she is also the author of three books. 

With contributions from