Few things can be more disappointing than finding your favorite tub of ice cream coated with a crunchy sheet of frost that looks like it came straight out of a scene from Narnia. Aside from the initial ick factor and slightly off-putting texture, I’m usually left wondering if my freezer-burn-ridden container of beloved Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food is actually safe to eat anymore. I mean, this technically melted for god knows how long and re-froze, right? I’ll wonder. To find out the scientific explanation about what’s really going on, we spoke with a food scientist who put this lifelong dilemma to rest.
In short, it turns out that *most* food with freezer burn is usually a-okay; however, when it comes to certain foods like meat, it may be a warning sign that something greater is at play. So, what’s the best way to keep freezer burn from occurring, when should you actually part ways with an overly frosty ingredient, and what’s the logical explanation for all of this madness? We have answers for you—and it’s really NBD.
What causes freezer burn to occur
To learn more about the chemical reaction that occurs when food enters the freezer, we spoke with Natalie Alibrandi, a London-based food scientist and CEO of Nali Consulting, for the lowdown. “Freezer burn is caused by oxidation and dehydration. If food is left in the freezer for too long or it isn’t stored in an airtight package, the parts that are exposed to the air can be subject to freezer burn,” Alibrandi says. Makes sense… but isn’t the freezer meant to preserve food at all costs?
“In essence, freezer burn is the water content of the food rising to the surface and causing crystal-like structures. This process is also known as sublimation, which is similar to evaporation. However, in this case, the water bypasses the liquid phase and turns into gas,” Alibrandi says. Thus, when food makes its way to the freezer but has had some time to thaw, it can become prone to this pesky chemical reaction.
So is food with freezer burn safe to eat?
“Yes! Freezer-burnt foods are safe to eat. Unfortunately, due to dehydration and oxidation, [freezer burn] will drastically change the texture and taste of your food,” Alibrandi says. Although it may look unappetizing, she says that food that has undergone the sublimation reaction isn’t necessarily an indication of spoilage. However, she does advise that it’s best to remove sections of meat or crystalized vegetables that have been exposed to freezer burn, as it’ll significantly impact its taste and texture due to the moisture loss.
The best way to prevent freezer burn
To prevent freezer burn, Alibrandi recommends always using airtight containers and freezer-proof packaging to reduce the risk of sublimation. “In fact, vacuum packing food to prevent air from coming into contact with it is one of the best ways to keep ice from forming,” she says.
Ultimately, however, Alibrandi cautious that any food that has been exposed to air is at risk of freezer burn. To lessen the chances, she says you should keep most foods frozen only for a short period before using them and make sure they’re dried off when they go into the freezer. “Vegetables and fruits can be stored for up to 12 months while meats and fish should be less than six months,” Alibrandi adds.
@thiscraftyhome Reply to @_aj_2019 freezer burn sucks! Grab more freezer meal tips at in the free freezer meal prep cheat sheet in my bio! #freezermeals #easydinner ♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic
In this TikTok video by @thiscraftyhome, Rachel offers three tips for preventing freezer burn at all costs. First, she explains that you should store food with as little exposure to air as possible, echoing Alibrandi’s sentiments. Next, Rachel says that it’s essential to make sure that food is as cold as possible before it goes into the freezer. To do so, she recommends putting it in the refrigerator beforehand and then transferring it over to the freezer once it’s very cold. Lastly, she says you should not place too many warm items in the freezer at once, as it can drastically increase the temperature and leave food even more vulnerable to succumbing to the effects of sublimation. Just one more excuse for me to stock up on Ben & Jerry’s this summer, no?
Now that you know how to prevent freezer burn, here are a few healthy freezer foods to stock up on that a dietitian swears by:
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