Anyone ever open their freezer to pull out a steak and see that it’s brown and shriveled up on one side? Anyone else totally grossed out by this?
Freezer burn is a concern for all of us, especially since for many of us, the freezer is our long term storage solution for discounted finds and our short-term storage for future meals. Not to mention the ice cream!
If you take away anything from this post today, here’s what you need to know: freezer burn is not a food safety risk. You will not die nor get food poisoning from eating food that is or was freezer burned.
Now if your meat or whatever is infected with some crazy virus like E.Coli or Mad Cow Disease, you may still get sick. But it will be because of the virus, not freezer burn.
Please note that I am not a scientist and do not know if these diseases can or will survive a freezer.
Something freezer burn will do is make your food taste pretty bad. And that just isn’t cool. Especially when it’s your last piece of meat in the freezer and you’ve got two weeks before the grocery budget resets.
No bueno mi amigos.
What exactly is freezer burn?
Freezer burn is what we called food that has lost moisture because of the shift in molecules due to internal and external temperatures.
Here’s the non-scientific explanation. We put our steak in the freezer and it freezes to a point of being rock solid. Over time, the water molecules in the meat make their way to the surface of the steak. Some of these water molecules leave the steak and become ice crystals on the outside of the steak while others skip the solid stage and evaporate all together. (Remember that the air temperature is colder than the steak temperature). With the water migrating to the surface and evaporating, or turning into ice, the steak dries out. We’re left with a shriveled up, unappetizing, ugly brown steak.
How do we avoid freezer burn?
1. Reduce the food’s exposure to air. Keep anything in the freezer long enough and it will inevitably dry out. For this reason, rotate freezer items so that you’re eating the older stuff first.
2. Wrap it twice. If you know something will be in the freezer for a while, or it is extra important to keep it fresh (like bread), double wrap it. Wrap the item well with freezer-quality bags, then wrap it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
3. Remove excess air from packaging. After rolling down a bag or squeezing as much air out as you can, mostly seal a plastic bag and use a straw to suck out all the remaining air. Remove the straw and quickly finish the seal.
4. Fill the packages up. For both bags and containers, fill it up as much as you can so that very little air is left inside. (The exception would be to allow enough room for expansion… a tricky and fine line!) Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of a container of soup to reduce the amount of soup touching air, then put the lid on.
5. Re-package store-packaging. The containers from the store are meant to showcase the food and allow you to transport it home. They were not designed for long-term storage. Unwrap and re-package those items using the tips above.
6. Cool foods before freezing. Place freezer-bound foods in the fridge for an hour or two before putting them into the freezer. This allows the item to get colder and closer in temperature to what the freezer is set at and reduce the potential temperature shift. Imagine this: put an ice cube in a hot cup of coffee and it melts, right? Same thing, but in reverse. Put a hot cup of coffee in the freezer and the temperature surrounding the cup gets warmer. Cooling foods off first slows the escaping water molecules and prevents freezer burn.
7. Control the humidity. Fill a plastic container with water and leave it open in the freezer. This helps to maintain humidity in the freezer and the water molecules will be more likely to stay in our food.
8. Control the temperature. Turning the temperature up (or is it down) to make it colder or warmer encourages those water molecules to leave the foods. Keep the thermostat on cold and leave it there.
9. Keep it cold. Freezers with temperatures above 0 degrees F are more likely to cause freezer burn. Keep the freezer as cold as you can and use a freezer thermometer if necessary.
10. Keep the freezer full. A full freezer works in two ways: first, you’re paying to keep your food cold and not the air; second, cold food keeps both the freezer and other foods frozen. The food begins to act like an ice pack! Be sure thought not to add too much not-yet-frozen foods to the freezer at one time. Add 2-3 pounds at a time, leaving sufficient time for those items to become frozen before adding more.
What do we do with freezer burned food?
The first rule of thumbs is when in doubt, throw it out. However, if you feel comfortable using your food, aim towards dishes that will have the meat mixed up with other things, like soups or casseroles. Remember that the meat will be dry, so it will need added moisture. We certainly can’t refresh dried up chicken, but we can somewhat camouflage the dryness with other flavors and textures.