Is Food with Freezer Burn Safe to Eat?

Your package of frozen ground beef is covered with ice crystals, which isn't ideal. Now you're wondering if food with freezer burn is safe to eat.

For those of us who lead busy lives, freezing food can be a lifesaver when it comes to meal prep. But what about when you pull out the make-ahead freezer meals prepped in advance (or even a pint of ice cream) and there’s a layer of freezer burn? Is this freezer burn safe to eat?

Here’s a closer look at what that icy crust is and whether the freezer-burned food is still good.

What Is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn occurs when your food dries out. Those ice crystals you see on your frozen leftovers are created by moisture that escaped from the food. This happens for one of two reasons: either you didn’t store your food properly or your food has been in the freezer for a long time. Eventually, everything will start to turn to ice if left in there too long.

Foods with a higher water content are more likely to get freezer burned. Bananas, citrus fruits and other items on our list of foods that freeze well won’t get freezer burned as quickly as something like ground meat.

What Does Freezer Burn Look Like?

On most foods, freezer burn looks like a layer of ice. For example, if you open up a bag of frozen raspberries for a smoothie, you might find icy berries toward the top of the bag. When you dig into a tub of ice cream, ice crystals may be climbing up the sides of the container and onto the ice cream itself.

On certain types of food, freezer burn can change how the food itself looks, instead of adding a layer of ice.

How Freezer Burn Affects Different Foods

While it’s possible for any food to develop freezer burn, the effect can differ among types of food. Because freezer burn pulls moisture out of food, foods with a high water content are more affected than others.

Red Meat and Pork

Red meat and pork can take on a brown or gray color when freezer burn sets in. These discolored areas are safe to eat but are usually dry and tough when cooked.

Chicken and Poultry

When poultry (such as chicken breasts) become freezer burned, the edges appear beige or gray. Once cooked, these parts of the chicken have a leathery texture and are dry and tough.

Fruits and Veggies

In addition to being covered in ice crystals, freezer-burned fruits and vegetables tend to look shriveled and sad. As they lose their moisture to freezer burn, they shrink considerably. It’s helpful to keep in mind how long frozen vegetables last when meal planning.

Ice Cream

Ice cream may be the least forgiving food when it comes to freezer burn. Freezer-burned ice cream loses moisture and creaminess as it sits in the back of the freezer. Even once you scrape off the ice crystals, it won’t taste the same as fresh ice cream. Don’t let good ice cream go to waste! Whip up one of our ice cream desserts before the ice crystals take over.

Is Freezer-Burned Food Safe to Eat?

Yes. Though it may be lacking in the taste department, freezer-burned food is still safe to consume. You may not enjoy the flavor or dried-out texture of freezer-burned frozen pizza, but it has no impact on the quality of your food or your health. However, keep in mind that food doesn’t last forever in the freezer.

When cooking with freezer-burned food, here’s how to salvage as much flavor and texture as possible: Use fresh herbs to replace the natural flavor lost to freezer burn. Use the slow cooker to fix tough meat. And add beef or chicken broth to freezer-burned meat or poultry to help replace some of the lost moisture.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn

The number one rule for preventing freezer burn is to store all your food properly. That means sealing it in airtight containers (look for plastic and glass that are specifically freezer-safe) or wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap. Invest in products to help freeze food, such as a vacuum sealer, reusable freezer bags and portion pods.

You should also make sure your freezer isn’t too cold or too packed full of groceries and containers. Leave space for air to circulate, and keep the temperature around 0°F. If you plan on freezing leftovers, make sure everything is completely cool before it goes in the freezer. Sealing it up when it’s still warm will cause steam and condensation to form on your food, which is just freezer burn waiting to happen.

Armed with those tips (and a few high-quality storage containers), you can expect a future free of freezer burn. Hello, delicious defrosted dinner!

Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.