What causes freezer burn, and how to prevent it?

For most, if not all of you, freezing food saves both time and money. Freezing food saves time because you’ll have ingredients (or pre-cooked meals) ready whenever you need them, and money, because you get a much better deal by buying in large quantities.

But then, you might be frustrated to find that your meat has completely dried out, full of ice, and is unappetizing after opening your freezer. Yep, now you know that your food has been freezer-burnt.

We’re sure many of you are confused about freezer burn. You may think that a layer of ice on your food means that it’s time for you to throw it out. However, that’s not true. Freezer-burned food is safe to eat, but the quality would definitely be worse after you’ve first bought it.

Identifying freezer burn

What Causes Freezer Burn | Baan Somtum

Any food that’s stored in a freezer can get freezer burnt. Caused by dehydration, foods with higher water content like vegetables, meat, fish, or ice cream tend to get freezer-burnt easier than foods with a low water content, like nuts, seeds, or flour.

It’s easy to find out which foods have been freezer-burnt, as most of them would appear discoloured. Beef and pork may have a fading shade of brown, and chicken and fish may look pinker with greyish-white leathery areas throughout. When cooked, the texture may be dry and tough.

Fruits and vegetables may become dry and shrunken. High in water content, they might also be covered in ice crystals, and if you cook them, they’ll have more of a dry, woody texture.

Meanwhile, starchy foods like cooked grains and rice may be covered with ice crystals, and baked goods like bread or cake will be drier, less fluffy, and will have a rougher texture. On the other hand, ice cream loses its creaminess and gains ice crystals instead.

 

What causes it?

Freezers are definitely a tough place to be. A freezer’s climate is harsh and dry, so naturally, freezer burn happens when the moisture in the food makes its way up towards its surface, and then evaporates into the air inside the freezer. When this happens, your food will become dehydrated.

All foods contain water, and when frozen, ice crystals will form, making the food shrink, drier, and tougher. Additionally, the loss in moisture allows oxygen to cause changes in flavour and colour, especially in meats, poultry, and fish that was not well-wrapped. Naturally, the longer the food is stored in the freezer, the higher the chance they’ll get freezer burnt.

There are more ways to prevent freezer burn, rather than to fix it. That’s why we want to give you a few easy tips on how to keep your food hydrated in the freezer.

Dip your food in water before freezing

At home, you can dip your meat in very cold water before wrapping and putting it in the freezer. This will add a layer of moisture, as the protective layer will be the first to evaporate, rather than the moisture within the food itself. It’s also okay to dip your meat in cold water multiple times, too, as this is an already proven and handy trick for fishermen as a way to preserve their catch out in the sea.

Put a cup of water inside your freezer

Another cool, handy tip is to put water in an open container in your freezer. This method increases the humidity in the air around the food, even if the water eventually freezes. Just fill a small container (a bowl, a cup, or a plastic takeaway container) with water and place it in your freezer. The water will slowly evaporate, creating more moisture in the freezer, slowing the dehydration process of other foods.

Tightly wrap your food

The rule of thumb is to make sure that your food isn’t exposed to the air inside the freezer. Wrapping food as tightly as possible is the best way to store food in the freezer for a longer period of time. Make sure every bit of your food’s surface is covered and place it in the smallest sealed container possible.

A little fun fact – Since there’s little to no humidity in the air inside the freezer, airflow can cause the water in the food to become gas. The evaporated moisture will then attach itself to the side of the freezer. If you’ve been wondering why there’s so much ice on the side of your freezer, this might be your answer. 

Avoid plastic wrap

What Causes Freezer Burn | Baan Somtum

Wrapping your food tightly in waxed paper instead of a conventional plastic wrap can protect it from the harsh air inside the freezer and can also prevent water from evaporating from your food.

Also, investing in a vacuum sealer might be a solution for preventing freezer burn. Removing all the air around fish or meat means that water wouldn’t have any chance to evaporate, although it may cost some more money doing so.

However, if you don’t have waxed paper or a vacuum sealer at home, you can put your food in a Ziploc bag as the last option, although you have to remove all of the air out of it first.