Don’t you just hate it when you open up some meat that you had in your freezer and it is freezer burned?
It’s always so disappointing when you notice that chunk of ice on your food or the discoloration, particularly if you were planning a meal and don’t have a backup option!
Let’s not even talk about how carefully you packaged that food when you threw it in the freezer because you wanted to avoid freezer burn. It’s so challenging to prevent freezer burn sometimes, and it can seem like no matter what you do, you will battle this issue.
Can you eat meat that is freezer burned? Fortunately, freezer-burned food is still safe to eat. It may affect the quality, but not the safety, of your food. Freezer burn is not necessarily an indication of bad food but rather an indication of packaging quality and maybe even your freezer’s temperatures and process.
In this guide, we will walk you through what to expect as far as freezer burn. We will share with you when it is safe or not safe to eat meat that has freezer burn. We have a few tips for potentially avoiding freezer burn as well.
Keep reading to learn everything you should know about freezer-burned meat.
What is Freezer Burn?
When food is thrown into the freezer, there is a fine line to protecting that food from the extreme cold and ice that the freezer offers. The freezer is a great way to preserve food for extended periods of time but freezer burn is always a risk you will run into.
Freezer burn happens when food gets dehydrated or oxidized in the freezer. Most of the time, freezer burn occurs because the packaging is not 100% airtight or some sort of packaging that was not freezer-grade was used to store the meat in the freezer.
You might think your food is airtight but the question is, was it really? If even the slightest bit of air can get into the packaging, you could be facing freezer burn.
Freezer burn is quite noticeable when you pull your meat out of the freezer. It might even make you question whether or not the food is safe.
Freezer burnt spots tend to be discolored. For beef or even chicken, those can be grayish-brown spots that are typically tougher as well.
Those spots are formed where air met the food surface and it actually dried out the meat while it was in the freezer. These discolorations are not necessarily a sign that your food has gone bad but rather that the air negatively affected the color and texture of the food.
However, all freezer-burned food is still safe unless something else has caused it to go bad. Still, your food may not be that great anymore. You will find that the flavor and texture of those spots with freezer burn are not always tasty and enjoyable.
So while you will likely be able to eat your freezer-burned food, the question will really be – do you want to? Depending on how badly your food is freezer burned and what you want to use it in, you may decide to throw out the food anyway, or repurpose it.
Identifying Freezer Burned Meat – Is It Safe?
Before we start digging into how freezer burn may affect individual meats, take a look at this reference chart. This is a simple guide that shares several types of meat and what you can look for.
|Meat Type||Signs of Freezer Burn||Is it Safe?|
|Beef||Leathery brown spots||Yes|
|Chicken||Whiter tones on pink||Yes|
|Shrimp||Opaque white discoloration||Yes|
|Fish||Grayish tinted spots||Yes|
What you will notice is that the signs of freezer burn are different for every meat. That is because meats are different in colors and texture anyways.
What you should also notice is that each of these meats is still safe to eat, despite the freezer burn.
Now, let’s break it down and talk about each of these.
It’s easy to understand why you might think that freezer-burned beef has gone bad. When we give you signs to look for bad meat, we often tell you to take a look at the color of the meat and look for specific signs. You normally wouldn’t want to touch discolored beef.
In the case of freezer-burned beef, the color isn’t an indication that the meat is bad. It’s just an indication that something went wrong during storage.
On all types of beef, if you pull that package out of the freezer and notice a layer of ice crystals, there is a good chance it has been affected.
When you remove the layers of ice, if you see areas or spots that have turned brown in color and maybe look a bit tough, those are freezer burnt.
If just a portion is freezer burnt, you could easily cut off that section and proceed to cook with it if you really don’t want the freezer-burned section.
But again, we would like to make it really clear that freezer-burned meat is still safe to eat.
However, you may notice a difference in both taste and texture when you consume the meat. Some of this could potentially be covered depending on how you season and cook the meat.
Chicken is another common meat that can battle freezer burn. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working with breasts, thighs, legs, or another cut of chicken, they are all susceptible!
Sometimes it is harder to visibly tell whether chicken is freezer-burned, particularly if it has skin on it still. You might be more likely to notice discoloration in the bone (if there is a bone present).
Chicken is typically pink when it is raw. If you notice tough, white splotches or spots on the chicken, it is probably freezer-burned.
Just as with beef, you could cut out that freezer burn section and never know the difference or you can prepare it and ignore the freezer burn. You might be able to mask the difference in flavor and texture depending on the way you prepare the chicken.
Still, that spot may be altered in flavor, texture, and consistency when you prepare the chicken. So just be aware if you come across an odd bite of chicken!
Shrimp is another meat that may experience freezer burn. It is perfectly safe to eat despite the freezer burn. This meat actually may be challenging to really determine whether it is freezer-burned or not.
If you follow proper freezing instructions for shrimp, you actually freeze it in an ice coating. This is a special process for shrimp and that ice coating actually protects shrimp from getting freezer burnt.
If you didn’t use an ice coating or didn’t get them fully-covered they could be freezer-burned. Signs of freezer burn on shrimp is an opaque white discoloration on the surface. It may or may not be immediately noticeable.
The shrimp is still safe to eat when it is freezer burnt. You may notice a different texture. Freezer burnt shrimp might be dry or slightly tough but it is safe to eat.
Shrimp is hard to work around freezer burn because you can’t cut it out quite as easily, but we have a guide for dealing with freezer-burnt shrimp if it happens!
Finally, freezer-burnt fish is another meat that you may fight this struggle with. It could happen to any meat, to be honest, we’re just touching on some of the most popular categories. There are multiple types of fish but signs of freezer burn include grayish tints.
Just like with other forms of meat, the freezer-burnt spots could potentially be cut off of the meat. For fish, it will mostly make the fish dry in those spots and possibly a little tough.
Freezer burnt fish is still safe to eat, but as always, you may notice a difference in the quality, flavor, and texture.
How to Best Prevent Freezer Burn
It can be very challenging to prevent freezer burn. The key is to make sure the meat will not be reached by oxygen in the freezer. The best way to prevent freezer burn is to make sure it is properly wrapped and packaged in an airtight manner.
We almost always recommend at least two layers, because this is the safest way to know your food is as protected as it’s going to get. We don’t recommend freezing long-term in grocery store packaging. These simply don’t offer enough protection.
Use bags, wrap, jars, or containers that are specifically labeled as freezer-safe. Remember that air is the enemy here so do what you can to try to release and remove any trapped air as well.
Finally, you should let foods cool before freezing them if they are cooked because the heat causes steam in the packaging and this could then form ice crystals and freezer burn your food.
We hope you find this guide to understanding freezer burn to be a valuable resource. There is a lot to know but overall you should be aware that freezer burnt foods are still safe to eat.
We invite you to review the following question and answer section for some additional details.
Can Freezer Burn Make You Sick?
According to the USDA, freezer-burned food is still completely safe to eat. Freezer burn does not cause foodborne illnesses and should not make you sick from the freezer burn alone. You may or may not like how your food turns out, but eating it won’t hurt you.
Can You Eat Meat Stored for Two Years?
The short answer is yes. If the meat was properly packaged and stored, it is safe in the freezer indefinitely.
There are certainly recommended time frames for the best quality. You are more likely to see things like freezer burn the longer meat is left in the freezer, but you can eat it. Just be aware the quality may be affected.