What is Freezer Burn? Thawing Out the Answers About Your Frozen Foods

Freezer burned peas embedded in ice

Everything You Need to Know About Freezer Burn

It’s been a long day at work. You are starving. All day you’ve been thinking about the package of steak that you put in the freezer last week. It is just what you need to forget about your boss, your burgeoning to-do list, and your worries.

But when you unwrap your hunk of meat, your heart sinks.

And then you rage.

The beautiful steak you had so carefully crafted in your mind to be the centerpiece of your dinner has freezer burn.

Luckily, with a little bit of information, a little bit of planning, and a lotta bit of freezer space, you can protect your food and eventually eat it, too.

Why Don’t We Just Ice Out the Freezer?

Who doesn’t love coming home to a nice frozen block of broccoli, right?

Wait, what?

The poor freezer has been aligned for too long with sad sacks of mushy vegetables, pints of ice cream you bought in moments of madness and forgot about, and the sack of bananas you swear you’re going to use to make banana bread someday.

It’s time to stop the hate.

Freezers can do and be so much more than you even know. The wonders of frozen foods never cease, and a little bit of freezer know-how can go a long way for your home and for your bank account.

Since When?

People have been freezing food for almost as long as we’ve been eating it.

Ancient Mesopotamians dug holes and lined them with snow and hay to keep food cold. Later on, ice houses and ice boxes were all the rage: inside, big blocks of ice kept food and drink nice and cool, even during the summer months.

Even leaders throughout history have been going to extremes to freeze and protect their favorite foods. Alexander the Great, George Washington, and even Napoleon understood the importance of cold food so much they got their peons to cut ice from rivers and even build early machines to create ice naturally.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that the freezer we know and love today took center stage.

​General Electric​ invented and marketed the first modern-day freezer in 1927 and we’ve been loving them ever since. Just think: how lucky are you that you can now make ice in the comfort of your own home?

four small blocks of ice cubes

Image by Bru-nO

But ice making and easy access to ice cream aren’t where the freezer benefits end. Boy, will you be amazed when you see what else that big box o’ cold can do for you.

Is the Freezer a Magic Bullet?

Although freezers are pretty fantastic, freezing your food isn’t a magical trick to make it healthy, safe, and beautiful. If only.

Freezing your food won’t get rid of any existing bacteria, and it won’t prevent your food from ever growing nasty illness-causing bacteria ever again. But a freezer is magic in its own way…

… a freezer is a modern-day time machine!

When you freeze food, whether it’s meat or fruit or veggies, you’re pausing any bacteria growth or food spoilage that had already started before you decided to freeze it up.

Those bacteria don’t die, but they don’t multiply, either. This is a big deal.

When you put something in the freezer, it’s like you’re sending your salmon to take a long cryogenic nap until you’re ready to pair it with some potatoes or pasta. It will wait, but can you?

If You’re Gonna Freeze, Freeze This

In the right hands, ice is a powerful tool. But just like not all people love the snow, not all foods love the ice.

The world (and the internet) is full of pompous people showing off their freezers full of pre-made, ready to eat meals. And while you would certainly never stoop to that level, you too can have a freezer stocked with foods you know for sure will be just as fantastic when you take them out as they would have been the day you put them in.

Get ready, folks, because this list will revolutionize the way you look at that freezer, the way you buy groceries, and even the way you think about your mother. Okay, so it won’t do that last one, but it’s seriously a pretty ​life-changing list​.

Yes, For Sure, Freeze This Always. Why Aren’t You Freezing These Foods Now?

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Raw egg whites
  • Ice cream (obvs)
  • Milk (wait what?!?)
milk in a pitcher and glass with sunflowers in the background

Image via Shutterstock

And the list continues…

  • Bacon
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Lunch meat
  • Pork
  • Sausage
  • Hot dogs
  • Wild game
  • Turkey
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
raw steak with rosemary

Photo by Jez Ti​​mms on Unsp​​lash

Come on. Y’all know there’s still more food to freeze.

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Berries
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Avocado (pureed and creamy with lemon juice)
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Peaches (if they’re all sliced up)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • All of the greens (spinach, collards, etc.)
  • Chunks o’ melon
  • Chunks o’ pineapple
  • All of the squashes (winter, acorn, summer, zucchini)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Strawberries (with the middles taken out)
  • Potatoes

Don’t leave out the baked goods. They may be less malleable, but they’re just as deserving of a spot in the front of the frozen foods section.

  • Yeast bread (in whole loaves or in slices for easy toasting and eating)
  • Brownies
  • Cakes (but hold off on the frosting)
  • Muffins
  • Fruitcake (if you can’t bear to get rid of that holiday tradition but also don’t really want to eat it)
  • Donuts (again, frosting is a no-go)
  • Pies (without meringue)
  • Pizzas (America’s favorite frozen food. Probably.)
  • Cookies
  • Doughs (cookie dough, pizza dough)
  • Cake batter
  • Pie crusts
  • Pesto sauce

Oof. Now you’re going to need a bigger freezer.

woman standing next to an open freezer and getting a scoop of ice cream from a small tub

Photo by Evieanna Santiago on Unsplas​​h

The Freeze is Weak in This One

Aaaaaand inevitably, some foods just don’t freeze super well. Don’t freak out, though. For some of ‘em, there are prep methods you can use to save ‘em. For others… well, maybe just find another storage method.

Like, You Can Maybe Freeze This…

Cabbage


Watch out with this one. You can freeze it, technically, and the flavor won’t be totally lost. But just so you know, you’ll never get that crispy crunchy cabbage back again. Plan to use frozen cabbage in cooked dishes if you know what’s good for you.

Celery


This one’s pretty much the same. Instead of freezing whole stalks and then disappointing everyone with a soggy rendition of ants on a droopy log, just chop it into little pieces, freeze, and use in a soup or something where the texture matters less.

Garlic


Don’t just stick a handful of cloves into your freezer and expect them to be fresh as the day you bought them months later. The best way to freeze garlic is to throw the peeled cloves in some oil. You can chop them or keep them whole, but don’t leave your garlic-oil out in the real world for too long -- it can cause some serious ​bacteria growth​ and illness.

Herbs


herbs and a sliced red bell pepper

Photo by Thomas Rehehäuser on Unspl​​ash

You can freeze herbs, but try and think a little bit about what you’re going to use them for. Herbs are awesome when they’re stored in water -- dice it up, sprinkle it in an ice cube tray, fill the tray with water, and voila! You’ve got ready-made spice cubes for your next sauce, soup, or mojito. You can also freeze herbs, chopped or whole, in oil, just like the garlic of entries past.

Bananas


partially peeled banana with bunch of unpeeled bananas with white background

Image via ​StevenPB

Who doesn’t have a stack of old bananas hanging out in their freezer? Just know, though, the texture (and sometimes even the taste) isn’t going to be the same as the one you pull off the grocery store stand. Mash these babies up and use them in a bread or a muffin, but don’t plan on grabbing one out of the freezer for a mid-morning snack.

Apples, Citrus Fruits, Pomegranates, Grapes, Plums


lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, pomelo and other citrus fruits on a white background

Image via ​Pixa​​bay

Okay, so these fruits are delicious and sometimes try to go bad before you even have a chance to enjoy them. You can stick them in the freezer, just consider letting them live in some syrup or juice. You’re not going to get the crunch or the texture, but the saved flavor will be worth it.

Wine


It’s not a great idea to shove a whole bottle in the freezer, but if you like cooking with a nice splash of Pinot, use a standard ice cube tray to freeze just the right amount. It might even prevent you from drinking it before you can cook with it.

Just Don’t Even Try.

This list is like considerably shorter, because the freezer is awesome. Don’t waste your precious freezer space with these anti-freeze losers.

  • Cream-based sauces and soups
  • Cucumber
  • Egg whites (that have been cooked)
  • Meringues (on pies, as cookies, the works)
  • Fried foods (that have already been fried. Your frozen hash browns are fine.)
  • Fully cooked pasta and rice
  • Gelatin
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Lettuce
  • Sour cream
  • Mayo
  • Salads with mayo (egg salad, tuna salad)

Notice a trend? Pretty much don’t freeze eggs.

a bright yellow toy with smiley face beside a toy fridge

Image via ​Pi​​xabay

Food Limits in the Freezer

You just got home from the grocery store and your freezer is cold and empty. Stock away, my friend, stock away. But while you might have chosen the perfect freeze-able foods for your future consumption, you can’t just let them stay in there forever.

fresh raw steak with fragrant herbs and spices

Meats

Bacon: 1 month

Cold Cuts: 2 months

Ground Meat: 4 months

Pork Chops, Roasts: 6 months

Steaks: 6 months

Chicken: 6 months

Fish Fillet: 6 months

Produce

Fruit: 1 year

Veggies: 1 year

Dairy

Block of Cheese: 6 months (but it may get crumbly)

Shredded Cheese: 6 months (and it will stay crumbly)

Tofu: 5 months

Yogurt: 2 months (but put it in a new container)

And remember, no matter what you’re storing, how long you’re storing it, or who you’re storing it for, pack. it. right. Keep on a’readin’ for those packin’ tips.

The Biggest Foe of the Frozen: Freezer Burn

It’s oxymoronic. The biggest issue facing our frozen foods today is burn!

Protect yourself and the foods you love by learning your enemy’s biggest secrets. Only you can prevent freezer fires!

Well, kind of.

Harsh Burn, Bro?

Freezer burns and fire burns aren’t really all that different, when you get down to it. They’re both caused by exposure to extreme temperatures without the proper precautions or coverings.

Freezer burn develops when you put food in the freezer without adequate coverage: that steak you got wrapped at the counter and didn’t re-package, for example. It’s the plastic’s fault, not the freezer’s!

Freezer burn is a spot on your food where the moisture has all disappeared: it’s dehydration!

It’s Here, It’s Near… Do You Have to Get Used to It?

So you’ve got it. Now how do you get rid of it?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a super great way to get rid of areas of freezer burn on foods. You can cut off the yucky looking areas, but you’re not going to reverse the freezer burn, sorry.

Some superheroes are doing their best to combat that issue, though. Check it out, try it out, and publish your research to benefit the rest of us.

When You See Something, Say Something

freezer burnt peas

Image CC by A-SA 3.0, by Ragesoss, via WIkimedia

freezer burnt veggie pattie

Image CC by 2.0, by Re​​becca Wilson, via Flickr

freezer burnt steak

Image CC by​​ 2.0, by  Steven Depolo, via F​​lickr

Sometimes the food filling your freezer is covered in little crystals, or you might suspect something is full of the burn before you even open the package, but does that mean freezer burn?

Not necessarily.

Freezer burn causes most foods to turn kind of grey and develop frost. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, unhealthy, or illness-inducing, but it might not taste very good.

But before you get too worked up about your ruined frozen treats, check it before you wreck it. Freezer burn is one of a number of freezer-related food damaging concerns. Investigate.

freezer burnt meat with unusual color, noticeably different from fresh raw meat

Image via ​Wikimedia

Change in Color

If your meat is the wrong color, it might be freezer burn… but it might also just be super dry. It might not make you sick, but it probably won’t taste good enough to eat.

black and white photo of a fully filled freezer

image via Pix​​abay

Dullness

Fruits and veggies especially will lose their bright enticing colors over time, even when frozen. This is a pretty good sign that they’ve just been hanging out in the freezer too long. Make a smoothie, slurp it down, and feel healthy, productive, and not at all wasteful.

hands in gloves using sponge and spray bottle of detergent to clean the freezer

Hands in gloves with sponge and bottle of detergent cleaning refrigerator

Spills

This is a bad one. If you notice pools of juices in your freezer, clean it out and throw away the culprit ASAP. Your freezer probably thawed a bit, causing foods to thaw, too. The leftover juice can cause bacteria growth and overall gross.

Smells

A bad smell is not caused by freezer burn, but it is probably caused by something insidious growing inside your food. Check it out and chuck it out.

Slimes

If, when you open the frozen food package, the product slimes out, it’s no good. It doesn’t suffer from freezer burn, but it does belong in the burn pile (or, more likely, the dumpster).

Can I Eat This?

Hallelujah! It’s the happy ending we’ve all been hoping for: even if it suffers from freezer burn, your steak is safe.

You can totally nom the food that your freezer tried to steal from you. But be warned: it might not be quite the delicious dish you had cooked up in your mind.

a boy refusing to eat the food on the plate with a rice bowl

​​​​Image by G​​iphy

You won’t get sick, but you probably won’t be trying to freezer burn your food just for the flavor anytime soon. ​Nutrition experts​ even say that freezer burn might remove some of the nutritional value from foods, so maybe just don’t eat the freezer burn covered asparagus.

Is Special Cooking Required to Eat Food with Freezer ZBurn?

Freezer burn has infiltrated your prized cut of meat or your last bag of your favorite vegetables. But you don’t need to race to the grocery store just yet.

Nothing special needed, just grab a knife, make sure you’ve got some adult supervision, and slice off the nasty bits.

Or, you know, if the whole thing is covered in ice crystals and has a new grey-ish sheen, consider an alternative dinner plan.

Prevent Freezer Burn From Ever Freezing Your Freezer Again

Guess what, though? If you haven’t already been burnt by your freezer, there’s still hope. Or even if you have, you can keep yourself from experiencing the misery all over again.

a kid using a frozen raw meat to treat his bruised left eye

Image by ​gi​​phy 

The first step in your freezer rehabilitation plan is to wrap your food before you freeze it. Like, really wrap it. Keep all of that air away from your delicacies in the first place, and there will be no room and no way for freezer burn to develop.

Next, don’t keep your foods in the freezer forever! Even if they’re wrapped with the skills of a "wrap god," eventually they will get freezer burn if you just let them wait and watch while you pull everything else out around them. Label those frozen foods with big bold dates to prevent the epidemic of forgotten frozen foods from infiltrating your household.

well-labelled and vacuum-packed ribeye steak

Image CC by 2.0, by Your Best Digs, via Flickr

potato casserole

Image by Pe​​xels

When you’re freezing something that has been hot in a former life (think casserole, soup, pasta, and your favorite hot carrots), let that business cool down a tad before shoving it away. At least let ‘em meet room temperature before you rock their world with icicles.

And most difficult of all, keep your freezer door shut. It’s easy and oh so tempting to stand in front of an open freezer door admiring your wealth and all of the lovely options available to you in your moment of hunger, but remember, air is the culprit here. No air on the food, no freezer burn on the food. So let the door do its job!

So as an overview:

Rule number 1: Wrap it right.

Rule number 2: Don’t forget about it.

Rule number 3: Give it a minute.

Rule number 4: Don’t gawk.

Pack It In

If you’re going to freeze it (and you really should freeze it), you’ve gotta ​freeze it right​.

You can’t just use any old baggie or plastic wrap, but you don’t have to spring for the fancy and expensive top-of-the-line freezer safe stuff, either. Keep it tight, keep it closed, and it’ll keep for you.

Wraps

Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or paper wrappings are all pretty effective at keeping the cold out and the delicious in. Wrap it up as tight as you can, and for extra safety, write a date on that bad boy.

Wraps are going to work best for your big hunks of food: a giant meatloaf, maybe, or a slab of leftover meat. Bread also freezes and keeps well in a wrap -- just don’t try to freeze the peas this way.

Zipper Bags

Ah, the Ziplock. Where would we be without it?

You can safely, quickly, and effectively freeze just about anything in a good ol’ ziplock bag. Throw in your extra fresh herbs, berries and veggies, meat scraps, and even soups (just probably not in the same bag).

Be warned, though, ziplocks aren’t the very best for long-term storage. Try and use their frozen insides within a couple of weeks, depending on the type.


And a pro-tip: freeze your soups and marinades and wiggly things lying flat on the floor (or on a shelf) of your freezer. Soon, they’ll be frozen solid in a handy little brick, the perfect space saver.

And, as always, mark that sucker with a date! You don’t need to be digging around all day trying to find a bag of veg that you vaguely recognize from this decade!

Reusable, Disposable Plastics

They’re handy, but they might not be for long. Thin plastic containers with snap-on lids are a great freezer filler in a fix, but over time they get those cracks that give your foods the burns.

Use ‘em a couple of times, take them to your friend’s house for a party and don’t worry about getting it back, or start using them as pencil holders when their days as freezer containers are numbered.


Aluminum Pans

These are enormous, they have lids, and you can just chuck ‘em when you’re done. What more could you want?

If you’re transporting whole meals and really don’t trust your family and friends to return your fancy Pyrex, this is the choice for you.


Glass with Lids

Classic, stylish, and safe, glass containers with good sealing lids are the ultimate in frozen food storage. If you want to have frozen food ready to go at the start of the next century, use glass. Just make sure the lid is sealed on tight before you close that freezer door.

Use a jar, a bowl with a tight-fitting lid, or a Pyrex container, it’s all good.


Vacuum Seal

It’s getting pretty fancy now. If your freezer game is super on point, invest in one of the big guns. Vacuum sealing will extend the freezer life of your food by a crazy-lot, and, because it’s getting rid of almost all of the air in there with your food, it practically eliminates any freezer burn potential. Bingo!


How Frozen Is Frozen, Really?

freezer thermometer used on a refrigerator completely filled with delicious food to check the temperature

Image by USDA

Full disclosure, if you don’t have your freezer set to the right temp, a minor freezer disaster is in your future, no matter how good your wrap game is.

Lots of freezers (hopefully yours) come with built-in thermometers or temperature gauges. Check it early, check it often: your freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius). (Just FYI, your fridge should be at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees Celsius.)

If your freezer isn’t full service, you’ve got some options. One, buy a little thermometer to sit in there all the time. Done.

If you’ve got something against buying thermometers (or need to know your freezer’s temperature faster than you can make a Target run), take a look under the lid of the freezer’s favorite staple: ice cream. If that delicious treat is anything other than a brick of joy (like it’s kind of melty or mushy), your freezer is too warm. Turn it down, man.

Or, if you’re feeling a little more industrious, check out the video below.

Get Iced In

Now is your chance. Stock up on those great deals at the supermarket, wrap it all tight, and freeze to your heart’s content.

Who’s burning now, freezer?

a woman grabbing the refrigerator door and loses balance that the refrigerator fall on her

Image by Gip​​hy

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