Is It Really Safe to Eat Food That Has Freezer Burn?

You'll be surprised to learn what causes those icy crystals on frozen foods and how to prevent them.

For those of us who lead busy lives, freezing food can be a lifesaver when it comes to prepping food and getting dinner on the table. But what about when you pull out make-ahead freezer meals you prepped in advance (or even that pint of ice cream you want for a midnight snack) and there’s a layer of dreaded freezer burn? We investigate what that icy crust is, when the food is still safe to eat and how to avoid the problem in the future.

What Is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn occurs when your food dries out. Those ice crystals you see on your bulk pack of chicken or in your frozen leftovers is moisture that escaped from the food and turned into ice on the outside. (Here’s how to tell if chicken is bad.) It happens for one of two reasons: Either you didn’t store your food properly, or your food has just 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 foods 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?

reezer burned food in Freezerhutchyb/Getty Images

On most foods, freezer burn just 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 items like meat, freezer burn can change how the food itself looks, instead of just adding a layer of ice. Ground beef can turn gray or brown after it’s been frozen. The edges of raw chicken may turn beige and look almost cooked, even though it isn’t. (Learn how long frozen vegetables last.)

Is Freezer-Burned Food Safe to Eat?

But fear not: The sight of freezer burn shouldn’t have you sending the entire contents of your freezer into the trash, because freezer burn is actually completely OK and safe to eat. You may not enjoy the taste or dried-out texture it gives your frozen pizza, but it has no impact on the quality of your food or your health.

However, you should still keep in mind that you shouldn’t keep your foods in the freezer forever. Check out our guide to how long foods last in the freezer. Since freezer-burned food is safe to eat, here’s how to tell if your food is actually spoiled.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn

Freezer Filled with Meat and Vegetable Packets Frozen in Plastic Bags Food Reserve Stored for Food Preparation.Qwart/Getty Images

While it may be safe to consume, that crusty layer of ice crystals isn’t exactly what you’re aiming for. To prevent it from happening in the future, the number one rule to preventing freezer burn is to make sure you 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. Any air that gets in will speed up freezer burn. Check out our list of 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 zero. If you plan on freezing leftovers or a freshly baked casserole, make sure you let it cool completely before placing it 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, deliciously defrosted dinner!

Try Our Best Freezer-Ready Recipes
1 / 24

Amanda Tarlton
As both a freelance lifestyle writer and editor for a national teen magazine, Amanda spends most of her time creating #content. In those (rare) moments when she's not at her desk typing furiously, she's likely teaching a hot yoga class, reading the latest chick-lit or baking a batch of her famous scones.