Ever grabbed something out of your freezer for dinner, only to open the package and discover a layer of hard, impenetrable ice coating your food? Join the club.
That stubborn frosted coating is what’s commonly known as freezer burn, and according to Andrea Thompson, a Special Projects Manager for UC Davis’ Food Science and Technology Department, it unfortunately happens often with refrigerated meat. But the truth is, it can happen to any food item in the freezer that isn’t sealed up tightly.
The process goes a little something like this: As the temperatures dips below freezing in your fridge, water sometimes evaporates out of the meat, where it then hits the air and freezes, resulting in ice crystals. Where the evaporated water once was there are now small cavities or pockets, ultimately exposing the meat to more air.
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The bad news is that freezer burn can often change the flavor, color, and texture of your food—especially meat, since the oxidation process affects the fat and the pigment. "It will be unpleasant compared to food that isn’t freezer-burned," notes Thompson. "The texture will be dry or mealy, the flavor will be off, and the color unappealing."
The good news is it’s not harmful to your health in any way, so long as you’re eating the food within a safe period of time. (Pro tip: Check out our food storage chart to be sure.) Plus, it’s entirely preventable.
Your best bet, advises Thompson, is to limit the amount of air that the food comes in contact with, by not tossing it back into the freezer without securing the packaging. Thompson suggests checking out FoodSaver or Cryovac air-sealed packaging that will vacuum the air right out of the plastic before you stow away the food.
It’s also important to take your local weather into account whenever food storage is involved. “Since I live in Sacramento, where the summers are hot and last far too long, all our bread has to live in either the fridge or freezer or else it will grow mold,” says Thompson. “When buying rolls, I place enough rolls for one dinner in a Ziploc bag, close the bag 90 percent of the way, then fold it over and squeeze as much air out as I can. Then I seal it so that the bag is contoured to the bread, and pop those in the freezer.”
According to Thompson, that alone helps preserve the rolls and save them from freezer burn. Working to eliminate as much air from the packaging as possible will save you some headaches in the long run.