ice crystals on meat

What Do Ice Crystals on Meat Signify? What You Need to Know

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If you have removed a piece of meat or poultry from the freezer and notice ice crystals all over the surface of the meat, you might be wary of cooking the meat.

What do ice crystals in meat signify, and is the meat still okay to eat?

Ice crystals on meat show that the meat has gone through freezer burn, which can destroy the quality of the meat quite a bit. The meat should still be fine to eat, as long as it does not show any signs of spoiling, but it will just not have the same taste and texture.

There are a few factors that could cause meat to develop freezer burn, but there are also a few ways you can prevent it from happening. Read on to find out more about what ice crystals on meat signify, how to prevent it, and whether or not you should still cook the meat.

What Is Freezer Burn?

If you notice ice crystals on the meat you have just taken out of the freezer, it signifies that the meat has gone through some freezer burn while it was frozen.

Freezer burn sounds pretty serious, but it is a process that food goes through in the freezer, where the moisture in the meat freezes into ice crystals, drawing the moisture out from the meat, and causing it to dry out.

Freezer burn can happen for a few reasons, but two of the main factors that cause freezer burn is if the food was not protected and stored properly in the freezer, or if the food has been left in the freezer for a very long time.

Food with higher water content is more likely to develop freezer burn, or more freezer burn, as it has more moisture to turn into ice crystals.

As the ice crystals form, the moisture is drawn out of the food, drying it out from the inside out, and this moisture can’t be reincorporated back into the meat once it has gone through freezer burn.

How to Identify Freezer Burn

It is quite easy to tell whether or not your meat has freezer burn.

Freezer burn looks like a layer of ice has formed over the surface of the food or meat, and depending on the severity of the freezer burn, it could cover the entire surface of the meat, and can even be on the inside of the freezer container.

The ice will likely come away easily from the surface of the meat when wiped away, but it shows that moisture has been drawn from the meat, and this moisture has frozen on the surface.

The freezer burn might be less severe, with just a thin layer of ice crystals on the meat, or it might be more severe where there might be a thicker layer of ice formed on the surface.

The meat might also have lost some color, becoming dull or even slightly gray, but this only usually happens when the meat has been left in the freezer for a long time, or if it hasn’t been protected enough.

What Do Ice Crystals on Meat Signify?

Ice crystals form on meat when it has gone through freezer burn, but there are a few different reasons why freezer burn might happen.

Here are some different reasons why ice crystals might have formed on meat:

  • The meat froze too quickly. When meat is frozen too fast, ice crystals can form on the surface of the meat. This usually happens with thinner cuts of meat, such as chicken breasts and thin chops.
  • The meat was frozen, thawed, and then frozen again. For this reason, it isn’t recommended to refreeze meat more than once, as freezer burn is more likely to occur, and the quality of the meat will decline.
  • The meat was frozen at too cold a temperature. When exposed to temperatures that are too low, meat is more likely to go through freezer burn, as the protection it was wrapped in will not be enough to prevent freezer burn.

Is It Safe to Eat Food With Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn, and ice crystals on the surface of meat which has been frozen, might make the meat seem inedible before it is thawed, but meat that has experienced freezer burn is not unsafe to eat, as long as there are no other signs of spoiling.

ice crystals on meat

The ice crystals on the surface of the meat do not indicate that the meat is off or that it has spoiled, but rather that the meat has dried out in the freezer. The meat is still fine to eat, as long as you properly thaw and cook it.

While the meat will still be fine to eat, the quality will not be all that great. The moisture would have been drawn out of the meat, and this then leads to the meat being dry. When cooked, the meat will be dry, chewy, tough, and even duller in color.

This won’t be as noticeable if you are cooking the meat into a meal, such as a soup, stew, or casserole, as the meat can blend in with the other ingredients. However, when this is a steak or cut of meat cooked and enjoyed on its own, it will be more noticeable.

The meat will likely be tough and almost gray in color, and it won’t have the same taste and texture you would have hoped for. However, it will still be safe to eat!

How to Prevent Freezer Burn

You don’t want the meat in your freezer to develop freezer burn, as it is a sure way for the meat to lose quality, texture, and taste.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to prevent freezer burn from happening, therefore keeping your meat in the best quality possible.

Here are a few things you can do to prevent freezer burn:

Properly Package Meat

Often, freezer burn happens when meat is not packaged properly for freezing. The meat needs to be protected properly when placed in the freezer, to ensure that ice crystals don’t form so easily.

The meat can be placed in the freezer in its original packaging, but sometimes this is not enough to protect the meat from the very cold temperatures in the freezer.


To protect meat from freezer burn, it should be properly packaged.

If being kept in its original packaging, then it is best to wrap the meat in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. If you have removed the meat from the packaging, then place it into an airtight container, or into a plastic freezer bag.

The more protection the meat has in the freezer, the less chance it has of developing freezer burn.

Keep the Freezer at the Right Temperature

It is important to make sure that the freezer is kept at the right temperature. If the freezer is too cold, then there is a higher chance that the meat might develop freezer burn.

The ideal temperature for a freezer is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the right temperature to keep the meat frozen and safe, but not too low that it will be at risk of developing ice crystals too quickly.

Make sure that you also inspect your freezer for tears or gaps often, as a fluctuating temperature can also lead to ice crystals forming on the surface of the meat.

Chill the Meat First

It is best to try and chill the meat before placing it in the freezer. You can do this by leaving it in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight and then transferring it straight into the freezer.

This allows it to cool to a low temperature slowly, rather than going from room temperature to freezing in an instant.

Vacuum Seal the Meat

A great way to prevent freezer burn is to vacuum seal the meat. When the meat is vacuum sealed, there is no excess air in the packaging, which means that there is a very low chance that ice crystals will form on the surface.

If you do not have a vacuum sealer to use, then you can place the meat into a plastic freezer bag, and squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag before sealing it. Using a straw, you can try to suck out any remaining air from the bag before sealing it too.

Do Not Freeze the Meat Too Long

Meat will eventually develop freezer burn if it is left in the freezer for too long, even if it has been protected well in the freezer. 

To ensure that meat does not decline in quality, and that it does not develop freezer burn, you should label it with the date of freezing, and make sure to use it within this time.

It will still be fine to eat after the recommended freezing time, but it will not be as tasty and the texture will be tough and chewy.

How Long Can Meat Be Frozen?

Meat can be frozen successfully, and used within a certain timeframe, without losing too much quality, and still tasting great once thawed and cooked.

frozen meat

Knowing how long meat can be frozen will help you keep track of when you should use it by to enjoy its best quality.

Here are different types of meat, and how long they can be stored in the freezer:

Ground Meat

Ground meat, such as hamburger meat and ground turkey, pork, and lamb, can be kept in the freezer for up to 4 months.

Meat Cuts

Various meat cuts can be kept in the kitchen for different amounts of time. The below cuts can be for beef, lamb, pork, and veal:

  • Steak – 4-6 months
  • Chops – 4-6 months
  • Roasts – 4-8 months
  • Bacon – 1-2 months
  • Sausage – 2-3 months

Poultry

Poultry tends to do well in the freezer, here is how long poultry such as chicken or turkey can be kept in the freezer:

  • Bone-in cuts – 3-5 months
  • Boneless cuts – 2-4 months
  • Whole poultry – 6 months
  • Giblets – 2-4 months

Fish

When protected properly in the freezer, fish can be kept for the following lengths of time:

  • Fatty fish – 2-3 months
  • Lean fish – 4-6 months
  • Shellfish – 4-6 months

Cooked Meat

Cooked meat cannot be frozen indefinitely, and there are guidelines to follow to ensure that the meat will still be enjoyable to eat.

  • Lunch meat – 1-2 months
  • Hot dogs – 1-2 months
  • Whole or half ham – 1-2 months
  • Cooked meat leftovers – 2-3 months
  • Cooked chicken – 2-4 months

Keep in mind that these are all guidelines, and to keep track of the recommended storage time, you should label the packaging with the date of freezing. All of the meat will still be fine to eat after this time, but the quality will decline.

Can You Refreeze Meat?

If you have taken meat out of the freezer, but have not had time to cook it, you might be tempted to place it back in the freezer, but this might not be the best idea.

Once meat has defrosted, it should not be placed back into the freezer. This not only puts the meat at risk of spoiling, but it also ensures that the quality of the meat will decline, and it will likely develop freezer burn. 

It might be safe to refreeze meat that was left to defrost in the refrigerator, but it is not worth the decline in quality that will happen.

How to Defrost Meat With Ice Crystals

If you do not mind the decline in quality of the meat, then you should still allow the meat to defrost, and cook it, to prevent it from going to waste.

frozen chicken

Defrosting meat that has ice crystals isn’t too different from defrosting meat normally. The best and safest way to defrost meat is to leave it in the fridge overnight or for a few hours.

This allows the meat to thaw slowly and at a cool temperature, which will hopefully prevent it from losing too much more quality.

It is then best to cook the meat along with other ingredients, such as in a stew or soup, to try and soften it a bit as it cooks, rather than cooking it on its own, so the decline in quality isn’t too noticeable.

What Do Ice Crystals on Meat Signify?

Ice crystals on meat most likely signify that the meat has gone through some freezer burn while it was stored in the freezer, where the moisture in the meat has been drawn out and frozen, leaving the meat dry and dull.

This often leads to the meat being tough, chewy, and less flavorful when cooked, which is obviously not ideal. Luckily, there are various ways to prevent freezer burn and ice crystals forming, so that you can keep your meat in the best quality possible while frozen!

Related Questions

Why Does All My Food in the Freezer Have Ice Crystals?

It is rare for all the food in a freezer to have ice crystals because of incorrect packaging, so it is likely that the freezer is not running properly. This could be because the freezer is set to too low a temperature, or because the doors of the freezer are opened often, or there is an issue in the seals.

The warm air let into the freezer turns into moisture, and when this comes into contact with food, it causes freezer burn.

Do Ice Crystals Always Mean Freezer Burn?

When food is covered in ice crystals, it is a good indication that the food has been through freezer burn.

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