Freezer burn sounds like an oxymoron, but anyone who has pulled some delectable ice cream out of the freezer only to have it taste terrible knows the sadness and annoyance that comes with freezer burn. The layer of ice that coats the top and the dried frozen item below it may not be unsafe to eat, but it is definitely unappetizing.
Because the ice layer on the top is from liquid that was inside the food, prevention is the best option. There is no way to recover food that has been damaged in this way; it must be discarded. There are a few things that can help to keep freezer burn from happening to your food.
Check the freezer
If your freezer is not at the proper temperature, the moisture can more easily escape the frozen food and cause freezer burn. Using a thermometer to test the interior temperature of the freezer will help to ensure that food will safely freeze and stay properly frozen. 0ºF is the generally accepted temperature, but lower than that is ok, too. Warmer than that could cause food to spoil because it may not stay frozen.
If your freezer is the type that self-defrosts, the chance of freezer burn is higher. This is because the mechanism to keep the freezer from icing over works by bringing the temperature up at intervals.
Keeping your freezer fuller can be helpful for keeping the temperature of the food stable, in the same way that having ice packs in a thermal container will keep things cold longer. Additionally, food will last longer in case of a power outage. It is not necessary for everything in the freezer to be food. Ice packs, ice cubes, or previously emptied bottles refilled with water and frozen can also add to the fulness efficiently. This can also provide water for drinking or cleaning in the case of an extended power outage.
However, be careful not to fill the freezer so much that the vents in the back are blocked. If the cold air cannot circulate properly, the food will not be kept evenly at the right temperature: some will be cooler while others may not be kept completely frozen. The ideal fullness amount is about 75% of capacity.
Add a few things at a time. Adding more than about 3 pounds per cubic foot of capacity of new unfrozen food will change the freezer temperature more than is ideal. If the food being added is already frozen, though, that rule does not apply.
Try to limit how often and for how long you open the freezer door. When you open the door, cold air escapes and is replaced with room temperature air. The freezer then has to work harder to get the temperature back down where it should be, and can cause foods to warm some, as well.
Leave room above and at the sides of the food to encourage even cooling and good cold air circulation. If the bottom does not have a rack, consider adding one under the food for better cooling.
Properly prepare the food
Cool the food before freezing. Because it is important to keep the freezer at a constant low temperature, adding hot food to the freezer is contrary to this goal. Hot – or even room temperature – food will raise the temperature of the foods nearby, potentially causing spoilage or freezer burn in those foods. Start by cooling foods in the refrigerator for a couple hours before moving it to the freezer.
Package the food in airtight packaging. Because air is one of the main culprits in freezer burn, it is best to keep as much air away from the food as possible. It is pretty easy to find containers that are made for use in the freezer. These could be glass or plastic containers with lids or made-for-freezer zip-top bags (which are thicker than storage type). Plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and wax paper can be helpful, but not alone. These should be added insulation or protection used with other freezer-safe items. Styrofoam food containers are not good for freezing foods.
Store packaging is usually not sufficient to protect food in the freezer, so if you intend to freeze it, you will want to repackage it into freezer safe packaging rather than leaving it in the store wrap.
Double-wrapping foods can aid in keeping out air and keeping food from getting freezer burned. Wrap tightly in the wrap of your choice, then seal in a freezer bag or other container or bag then wrap with foil or freezer paper.
Another way to seal out air is to freeze the items in liquid. Liquid outside the food will evaporate before liquids inside, protecting it. This liquid can be water, which will be poured off, or broth or sauce to be heated with the item.
Liquids should be frozen in an appropriately sized container. Liquid should reach about a half-inch from the top, which leaves just enough space for expansion without too much air space in the jar. You can cover it with a bit of foil or wax or freezer paper on the top to prevent air from getting to it. Cut it large enough to put it on the top, press the extra against the walls, and fold over the rim before adding the lid.
When using plastic bags, remove as much air as possible before sealing. While much can be removed by pushing on the bag before sealing, using a straw to suck out the remaining excess air is more efficient. Ideally, a vacuum sealer is best for removing all air, but many people do not yet have one in their kitchen.
With jars and containers, be careful to seal the lids properly to keep extra air out.
Rotate the stock
Just like in a grocery store, the best policy is first in, first out. Place new additions in the back and use what is in front. It is a good idea to use masking tape and a permanent marker to write the date and food item on the outside of the packaging, to keep up with how long foods have been in the freezer to ensure that the older ones get used sooner. The longer a food item is left in the freezer, the higher the risk that it may be freezer burned. Plan to use your frozen items within nine months of when you freeze it initially or discard it after that point.
It is a good idea to sift through the freezer occasionally to make sure nothing got missed or put in the wrong place. Have an organization method to help keep food where you expect to find it, making trips to the freezer easier and faster, reducing the risk of raising internal freezer temperature, and keeping your frozen items from being wasted.