Hey, you there, standing with the freezer door ajar, rifling through half-opened bags of frozen corn and plastic-wrapped hot dogs, swiping a spoonful from that pint of gelato and not bothering to press the lid back on… please stop.
Or do you like freezer burn?
Sometimes, freezer burn happens through no fault of our own. You might come across it when shopping for groceries, the result of food that wasn’t properly wrapped or stored. But at home, it’s preventable. Here’s how to spot it and what you can do about it.
What is it?
Freezer burn is dehydration on the surface of frozen food due to air exposure. The telltale signs are whitish splotches—ice crystals—on the food itself. Meat or fish might look discolored or dry in spots.
Will it make me sick?
No. Freezer burn is moisture loss. It isn’t a pathogen and has nothing to do with food safety, just food quality. But when it happens to otherwise perfectly fine food, it’s a bummer.
“It’s not going to taste good,” said Laura Barr, a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois Extension.
Freezer burn also robs food of texture and nutritional value, Barr said. So while the USDA suggests cutting off the affected portions before or after cooking, you might have to chalk it up to a total loss depending on how badly freezer-burned your food is.
What you buy at the store is in packaging that’s designed to prevent freezer burn. Frozen meat will stay freezer burn-free on average between three to six months and for up to a year under ideal conditions, Barr said.
Still, be on the lookout for those whitish spots or any nicks or tears in the wrapping, and choose the latest expiration or “best by” dates you see.
For something like frozen vegetables where you can’t see what’s inside, press the bag to feel whether the food is separated (good) or in a big ball (not good).
“If things are kind of stuck together, usually that means it’s lost temperature control and so it thaws and refreezes and sticks together,” Barr said.
Air is the enemy. Act accordingly.
With fresh meat, it’s a good idea to portion it out in freezer-safe bags labeled with the date before freezing. Similarly, with frozen bags of produce, once you’ve opened them, transfer the contents to freezer bags or airtight containers. In either case, squeeze as much of the air out of the storage container as possible.
Your freezer, by the way, should be at 0 degrees. Use a kitchen thermometer to check. (While you’re at it, check your fridge; it should be 40 degrees or below.)
Cook it already
Not to be a total buzzkill, but it must be said: Keep food too long in the freezer and inevitably, eventually, it will get freezer burn. That’s just how it goes.
So use up that meat, cook those vegetables and eat that gelato, for crying out loud—preferably with the freezer door shut.