Freezer Week

Freezer Burn Sucks. Here Are 5 Ways to Prevent It.

updated Aug 7, 2020
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Credit: Peter Colin Murray/Kitchn

The freezer is my quiet, unassuming partner in the kitchen that combats food waste, holds backup meals and fresh ingredients that turn into quick dinners, and makes icy-cold cocktails possible. I reach into mine a few times a day and try really hard to keep an accurate inventory of what’s in there so that food doesn’t get lost or forgotten. But sometimes food stays in the freezer longer than anticipated, making it susceptible to frozen food’s worst enemy: freezer burn. Let’s take a look at what causes freezer burn, but more importantly, simple ways to keep that unappetizing burn away from all your frozen treasures.

What Is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is what occurs when food experiences moisture loss. This moisture comes to the surface of food and turns into ice crystals, leaving behind drier food that usually has a change in texture, color, and/or flavor. Freezer-burned food is still 100% safe to eat, but it won’t be as good as what it was like before the freezer burn occurred.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Minimize Freezer Burn

When there’s air circulating around food in the freezer, freezer burn happens because there’s space around the food for the moisture to gather. To prevent freezer burn, you want the food to come into as little contact with air as possible, so here are five tips on how to do that.

1. Go for a tight fit.

The most basic thing you can do to prevent freezer burn is to freeze the food in the smallest container possible. This could be a jar, plastic container, or plastic bag (freezer bags are the thickest and best to use here), but whatever you choose, you want a tight fit so as little of the food is exposed to air as possible. Think taller containers rather than wider, and for things like ground beef, press it into a flat, thin layer in a plastic bag, which not only minimizes freezer burn but cuts the thawing time way down.

2. Double wrap your food before freezing.

For things like baked goods, go for two layers of protection. Wrap a brownie first in plastic wrap, then put the wrapped brownie in a freezer bag, or wrap it again in aluminum foil. This works especially well for cookies, muffins, and cake.

Double wrapping also works with open packaged foods. If you have half a bag of frozen peas, wrap a rubber band around it to keep the peas from spilling out, then slip that package into a freezer bag. Not only does this offer protection from freezer burn, but it also keeps any stray pieces of food from falling out into your freezer. The outer freezer bag is also totally reusable since it isn’t actually touching the food.

Credit: Christine Gallary

3. Copy IQF (Individually Quick Frozen).

Commercially frozen foods don’t freeze into one big block because of IQF, meaning they’re individually quick frozen into smaller pieces before being packaged. You can apply the same practice at home for fruits, veggies, meats, and even cookie dough. Place the food in a single layer on a baking sheet so that the pieces aren’t touching, and chop it first if needed — I like to freeze sliced or chopped strawberries or bananas because I know they’ll blend more easily into smoothies, and I can stir them right into pancake or muffin batter without having to defrost them to chop them smaller. Freeze until solid, then transfer the pieces to the smallest container possible, or divide among a few containers if you know the amounts you’ll use it in, for longer-term storage.

The best part about IQF is that food isn’t frozen into a single unmanageable chunk that takes a long time to defrost. You can grab just a handful of frozen fruit for your morning smoothie, a few cookie dough balls when the craving for freshly baked cookies strikes, or even just one chicken breast if that’s all you need for dinner. Also consider transferring the frozen food to a smaller bag once you’ve used some of it up.

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4. Vacuum seal foods for longer term storage.

Vacuum sealers are machines that suck all the air out of the bag and keep food sealed in nice and snug to keep the water out as it’s cooking in a water bath. But they work just as well for frozen food storage: vacuum sealing removes all the extra air out of the bag, making it hands-down the best way to prevent freezer burn. The added bonus is that you can season or marinate meats before vacuum sealing, so you can cook or defrost straight in or from the bag.

Don’t have a vacuum sealer? Suck the air out of freezer bags with a straw or slowly submerge the bag in water to push all the extra air out before sealing to mimic what the machine does.

5. Make a barrier on open ice cream.

We all know the disappointment that comes with grabbing that pint of ice cream, only to discover a layer of fuzzy ice crystals on top, right? Not to mention that the top layer of ice cream doesn’t taste its creamiest, dreamiest best. The easiest way to prevent freezer burn on open ice cream is to press a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper directly onto the surface each time you put it back in the freezer. This prevents those gnarly ice crystals from forming so that you’re still left with delicious ice cream from top to bottom.