The Ultimate Guide for Freezer Burn – Causes and Prevention

Last Updated on December 13, 2021 by CHANDRAMANI

You must have noticed meat, vegetables or ice cream left for too long in the freezer develops a layer of ice on them, this happens due to the freezer burn.

Freezer burn is caused due to the sublimation of frozen ice which is the water lost from the food. This makes the food dry and tasteless. The food may also oxidize and turn brown, although it is still safe to eat.

What is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is a condition when food such as meat, vegetables, ice cream, sausage, etc become dry, discolored, and frosty due to dehydration and oxidation. In such conditions, the moisture is transferred from inside to outside of food.

Freezer burn food when eaten they taste flavorless and are dry and icky.

What Causes Freezer Burn?

Freezer Burns happen due to temperature fluctuations inside the freezer which often happens due to the freezer door being left open for too long or the door not getting closed properly due to a faulty door gasket.

At higher temperatures, the air has a high water vapor pressure and warmer air can hold more water. To attain equilibrium the moisture(ice) in the food sublimates i.e. directly changes into water vapor in the air at higher temperatures.

When you again close the door the freezer temperature again starts getting low and a time comes when the freezer temperature again is at the normal colder temperature.

As a result, the water vapor pressure drops and the air is no longer able to hold the excess moisture which it gained from the food and tries to give the moisture back to the food but the moisture cannot diffuse into food into its original condition.

The water vapor changes into ice and covers the surface of the food and this layer of ice is a common sign of freezer burn.

What does freezer burn look like?

Freezer burn appears as grayish-brown leathery brown and dry spots on frozen food. Meat and vegetables develop a layer of ice over them. Food may also turn brown due to oxidation. According to Pennsylvania State University research Oxygen has a bleaching effect on the food. Freezer burn produces a loss of texture, color, flavor, and aroma.

Freezer Burnt Meat, chicken & Fish

Freezer burnt meat, fish, and chicken turn grayish-brown or white dry spots. When smelt it gives an unpleasant plastic-y and stale “freezer” odor.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables have more moisture than meat. When freezer burnt they become dry and shriveled. They become discolored and can be covered with ice.

Ice Cream

Unlike other food ice cream does not become discolored but develops ice crystals over them throughout and loses its creamy texture. When tasted it is noticed that they have lost some of their flavors.

Which Food is more likely to be affected by Freezer Burn?

As freezer burn happens from the moisture contained in the food itself, it happens more in those foods that have high moisture content in them such as vegetables and meat than in flour and nuts.

It also happens very often with ice cream and other frozen desserts due to their high moisture content.

How to prevent freezer burn?

As freezer burn is caused due to loss of moisture from the food, so you have to make sure the conditions are such that moisture is not lost by the food. Here are some great tips to prevent freezer burn.

Seal the food Properly

Make sure to pack and seal the food before storing it inside the freezer. You can use freezer bags or other zip lock bags to cut contact between the food and air inside the freezer.

Also, make sure to press all the air out of the bag in which you are storing food before closing the zip lock. You can also vacuum seal it if possible.

Minimize the Freezer opening

When you open the freezer its temperature fluctuates which is bad for the food, so minimize the freezer opening. Also do not open it for too long.

Use the right size container

Using the right size of the container is very important as if you store food in a container that is too big, then after keeping food in it, the remaining part is empty and is taken up by air which is not good for the food. This you can observe in ice cream boxes when they are half-eaten and when put back in the freezer, they develop ice crystals on the top surface because of the air in the box.

According to University of Minnesota Moisture loss, or ice crystals evaporating from the surface area of a product, produces freezer burn and Packaging designed specifically for freezing foods will prevent freezer burn.

Set Freezer temperature at 0°F (-18°C) or lower

Food freezes best at 0°F (-18°C) or lower, so maintaining this temperature prevents freezer burn as it prevents the escape of moisture from the food and formation of big ice crystals.

Repackage the food bought from grocery

Meat and other frozen food are often loosely packed which is not the right packaging to be stored in the freezer. So, repack it tightly and make sure there are no gaps for the air as much as possible in the package.

Use the food by the date mentioned on it

The longer the food sits in the freezer the greater the chances of tem[perature fluctuations it will go through. Consume the food before the date of expiry mentioned on them.

According to U.S. Food and drug administration food can be kept in the freezer as follows, ice cream for 2 months, meat can be stored for 6-12 months, Chicken or turkey for 1 year, Corned beef in pouch
with pickling juices for 1 month, Vegetable or meat-added & mixtures of them for 2-3 month.

Use Chest Freezer instead of Upright

Upright freezers easily allow the cold air to escape from them when you open the door, thereby increasing the chance of freezer burn, On the other hand, chest freezers do not allow the cold air to easily escape from them and also maintain consistent temperature far better than uprights.

Choose a manual defrost freezer

Automatic defrost freezer’s temperature fluctuates as the defrost heater turns on to defrost the frost build up and increases the internal temperature. This is not good for the food as the fluctuating temperature leads to freezer burn. Using a manually defrost freezer prevents this.

Is Freezer Burn food safe to eat?

Freezer burn affects color and taste but not quality. It also affects texture but freezer burn food is safe to eat according to food safety and inspection service of the U.S. Department of agriculture. Cut away the dry spots from the food and cook it with spices and herbs.


Freezer burn is common if food is stored for too long without preventive measure but is is safe to consume. With the help of above preventive measures freezer burn can be avoided.

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