Buying or preparing food in bulk and storing it in the freezer is a brilliant way of saving money, reducing food waste, being more organized within your working week and ensuring that your family can consume healthy meals without spending large amounts of time cooking every evening. However, food that is stored and frozen incorrectly can become susceptible to freezer burn.
Anyone who has ever pulled the frozen chicken out of the freezer only to see it looking discolored and coated in frost will know the tell-tale signs of freezer burn. While food that has been affected by freezer burn is generally safe to eat, they may not necessarily make for an appetizing meal.
It may be a common occurrence, but learning how to prevent freezer burn is easy, using just a few best practices for freezing food.
What Causes Freezer Burn?
When food is frozen, the water molecules within it turn into ice crystals. In a process known as sublimation, the ice crystals are drawn to the coldest place available, and inside of a freezer, this is usually the walls. The migration of the ice crystals to the freezer walls results in food becoming dehydrated, which often leaves it dry and shrivelled, with potential changes in colour and flavour.
The foods that are most susceptible to this are fish, meats and poultry, particularly if they aren’t wrapped and stored correctly.
How to Prevent Freezer Burn
- Foods should be frozen at temperatures of 0 degrees F or lower to allow your food to freeze at a faster rate, which means that smaller ice crystals will form and your food has less chance of becoming dehydrated during the sublimation process. A slightly warmer freezer should be turned even lower than 0 degrees F in advance to allow time for the temperature change to occur.
- Remove meats from the packaging that is was purchased in and repackage it correctly so that it is suitable to withstand the temperature of the freezer.
- Ensure that the food you intend to freeze is actually suitable for freezing. Foods that don’t freeze well include: cucumber, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and mayo-based salads, fully cooked pasta and rice, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, fried foods, herbs (they turn brown and gooey) sour cream and cheese (freezing cheese results in a change in its texture).
- Where possible, vacuum-seal foods.
- Chill your food for a few hours before placing it in the freezer – placing warm food may result in the temperature of your freezer increasing and will potentially cause sublimation in any nearby foods.
- Double-wrap some of your foods to keep them away from air exposure, wrapping in foil or plastic wrap and then storing in a freezer bag or airtight container. Always ensure that your containers and packaging are sealed correctly.
- Avoid placing too much-unfrozen food in a freezer at the same time. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends freezing no more than 2 to 3 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space.
- Ensure that there is space around each of the unfrozen items so that cold air can circulate. Once the food is frozen (about 24 hours), it can be stacked close together.
- Opening your freezer frequently causes the temperature inside to fluctuate and will result in more ice crystals forming when foods start to thaw. Only open your freezer when absolutely necessary and ensure that the door has been closed properly.
- Freeze your food using suitable packaging, and ensure that you remove as much air as possible before placing in the freezer.
- Consume your frozen food within a reasonable time period. To make it easier for you to remember when food has been frozen, write the date on the packaging before placing it in the freezer.
To prevent freezer burn it is important to use suitable packaging that won’t allow water molecules to escape. The packaging should be durable, leakproof, resistant to becoming brittle, resistant to moisture vapor and easy to add a label.
Here are some ideas for containers that will prevent freezer burn:
- Chef Joseph Pace, the director of stewarding and purchasing at the Institute of Culinary Education recommends using wax freezer paper and butcher paper instead of the more conventional plastic wrap:
- Glass jars intended for freezing and canning (regular glass jars may break at extreme temperatures.)
- Rigid reusable airtight plastic containers.
- Heavyweight aluminum foil.
- Plastic freezer bags.
Remember that regardless of which type of packaging is used, it should be sealed tightly and labeled with the contents and date.
Freezer burn doesn’t have to be a regular occurrence; it can be prevented using these methods for safe and effective freezing. Preventing freezer burn will save your food and save your money.