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What Is Freezer Burn – Causes & How to Prevent It When Freezing Food

By Casey Slide

containers of frozen foodOne of my favorite hobbies is to try to save money on groceries. It’s a challenging and never-ending process of searching ads, clipping coupons, and shopping strategically. While these methods do save my family a lot, I am always looking for the next big tip on how to drastically reduce our food bill.

Recently, I observed how much money we waste by throwing out spoiled food and how much we save by freezing. This has been a great benefit to my family, except for one thing: freezer burn.

Why Freeze Your Food?

Freezing food slows the process of microorganism and enzyme growth in your food that causes food spoilage. By freezing foods, you can:

  • Save money, since food is not prematurely discarded
  • Save time by preparing meals in advance
  • Prevent nutrients from escaping from foods

What Is Freezer Burn?

While freezing foods has some amazing benefits, freezer burn is the potential downside. Freezer burn is a condition in which frozen food has been exposed to air. When food is frozen, water molecules in the food turn into ice crystals. These ice crystals then migrate to the surface of the food, which is why you often see mounds of ice on your frozen foods.

Dehydration of the food then occurs because water is effectively being pulled out of the food. And while freezer burn is harmless, severely dried out food can become tasteless or have a distinct metallic flavor. To keep the coloring and flavor of your food top-notch, it’s important to take preventive measures to avoid freezer burn.

freezer burned sausage links

Tips on How to Prevent Freezer Burn

The best way to prevent freezer burn is to limit your food’s exposure to air:

1. Freeze Foods at the Right Time
After you prepare a meal, wait until it cools completely before putting it into freezer bags . Otherwise, it could cause damage or lead to holes in the bags.

Also, you’ll want to freeze your food as quickly as possible to maintain quality. To cool the food, put the dish or pan inside a sink full of ice. Once the food has cooled to room temperature, package it to be placed in the freezer. If more than two hours have passed, the health risks rise significantly.

2. Use the Best Containers for Freezing Food
The best container to use depends on what you are trying to freeze and how much of it you have. The goal should be to have the food exposed to the least amount of air as possible. If you are able to place the item in a freezer bag, you’ll be able to get most of the air out, which will keep the food from getting freezer burn. You can do this by taking the food-filled bag and running it across the edge of your counter from top to bottom.

Also, there have been some studies noting the risks of plastic food storage containers, some of which can be exacerbated by freezing.

  • Freezing Liquids. If you are freezing a liquid, such as a soup or a sauce, use the smallest container you can for the amount you are trying to freeze so that there is little space for air. Keep in mind that liquids expand when frozen, so some room is needed to avoid the container breaking or cracking.
  • Freezing Solids. For items that are not liquids, you can still use a container, but there is no need to leave space at the top for expansion. If there is a significant amount of space between the food and the lid, which often happens when you freeze casseroles, cover the top of the food with foil or cellophane before attaching the lid to protect it. If you do not want to keep your casserole dish inside the freezer along with your frozen casserole, line the bottom and sides of the dish with aluminum foil before you cook. Then, once the casserole freezes, you can remove the dish and keep your casserole wrapped in the aluminum foil. If you are attempting to freeze baked goods or meat, wrap them in aluminum foil and then place them in a freezer bag as the best method to prevent freezer burn.

3. Freeze Foods in Freezer Bags
In my experience, I have not found much difference between various freezer bags. What is more important than the bag is the packaging. It is imperative that the freezer bag is properly closed all the way and that the bag contains no air, as this will minimize the number of ice crystals that form on the food.

4. Use Extra Wrapping When You Plan to Freeze Foods for a Long Time
If you know that you’ll be freezing your food for a long time, use extra wrapping. For instance, wrap the freezer bag in aluminum foil.

frozen and packaged salmon filets

Other Freezing Tips

1. Don’t Freeze Too Much at One Time
It takes a lot of work for your freezer to freeze foods from a non-frozen state. Therefore, it’s best not to overload your freezer by making it do too much work at once. Not only does this increase your electric bill, but it can result in your freezer going above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving your food vulnerable. Aim to only add two to three pounds of unfrozen food to freeze for every cubic foot of freezer capacity.

2. Keep Your Freezer Full
The more you have in your freezer, the less your freezer has to work since the food that is already frozen helps other food to freeze and stay frozen. It is almost as if your food works as a team to keep the temperature down.

3. Never Put Glass in Your Freezer
Glass doesn’t handle extremely low temperatures well and will break if placed in a freezer. Therefore, never use glass to freeze your foods, and always make sure that your containers say that they are freezer-safe.

4. Use an Organization Method
Since freezing is a great way to prevent throwing out food, you don’t want to have the system backfire on you because you froze your foods for too long, which is typically more than nine months, depending on what you freeze. Therefore, use some sort of organization method so that you know which foods to consume first.

Here are some ways to stay organized:

  • Put the foods that have been in the freezer the longest toward the top of the freezer, and place the new foods at the bottom.
  • Use a freezer log so that you’ll always know what is in your freezer.
  • Label your frozen foods to help you find specific items.

5. Freeze Single Servings
Freezing single servings is a great way to have a meal for a single person ready at all times. This is especially helpful if you need to bring a brown bag lunch to work.

Best Foods and Meals to Freeze

You can freeze almost anything, with a few exceptions. Here are some of the best food items for freezing.

  1. Soups. Soups are great for freezing, and almost every type will freeze well, though sometimes they can get a little mushy if you’re working with a thicker broth.
  2. Meats and Fish. It’s best to freeze meat that is raw so that it does not dry out. However, you can freeze cooked meat as well. Meatloaf and meatballs can be easily frozen and do not easily dry out.
  3. Breads and Baked Goods. Breads and baked goods of almost any kind freeze well: baked pizza and dough, cakes, pancakes and waffles, baked cookies and dough, muffins, bagels, pies, and yeast breads, as dough or baked.
  4. Pasta. Some would argue that freezing pasta is a bad idea; however, as long as you freeze it properly, it should be fine. To be sure your frozen pasta does not get too soft, do not overcook it, and make sure there is plenty of sauce frozen with it. I recommend macaroni and cheese, as well as lasagna, as excellent pasta dishes that can be frozen.
  5. Beans. The great thing about freezing beans is that you can soak and cook them ahead of time. Then you can use the beans you froze instead of beans from a can. This will end up saving you money.
  6. Casseroles. This is my favorite thing to freeze because you have a complete meal once you unfreeze it. I commonly freeze shepherd’s pie, enchiladas, quiche, and stuffed peppers.

frozen meat can be quickly turned into a meal

Foods That Should Not Be Frozen

As mentioned, you can freeze almost anything, but there are some items that should not be frozen, or are not ideal for freezing:

  1. Eggs. Never freeze an egg that is in its shell because it will burst open. Instead, make sure the egg is slightly cracked if you want to freeze it.
  2. Gelatin. Gelatin will lose water when frozen and will no longer hold the properties of being gelatin.
  3. Cream, Custards, and Puddings. These items separate when frozen. I once tried to freeze several containers of sour cream after I went on a bit of an extreme couponing craze due to an awesome sale. When I defrosted my sour cream, it was runny and ruined. The same is true with all emulsions, such as mayonnaise.
  4. Watery Vegetables. The other items that should not be frozen are watery vegetables, such as lettuce, cucumbers, and celery. These types of vegetables become soggy when thawed. That being said, I know my mom has successfully frozen homemade baby food using cucumbers due to her specific recipe and the fact that she packaged everything extremely tightly.

Furthermore, just because you can freeze something doesn’t mean you should freeze it. Some foods lose their most important qualities, such as fried foods, which lose their crispness. Fruits become mushy, so only freeze them if you plan to use them for a sauce, smoothies, or some other recipe where texture of the fruit is not important.

Saving Money By Freezing Food

Freezing is by far one of the best ways to reduce food waste at home. Since the average American family throws out about 15% of the food they buy, you could potentially save about 15% of what you spend on groceries if you properly freeze food. Thus, if you spend $100 a week on food, this will amount to $780 in savings a year!

Additionally, storing food in freezers is also a great time-saving technique because food can be prepared in batches, which for many people is just as important as the money saved by freezing food. Freezing food is truly one of the best family meal planning tips that any parent can implement to save time and stress. Also, if you need to buy a rare ingredient that you will only use partially to prepare a meal, double up on the recipe to get your full money’s worth, and freeze half of it for later.

Final Word

Equally important to how you freeze your food is how you thaw your food. The very best and safest way is to place frozen foods in your refrigerator, so make sure you plan your meals ahead of time.

If you forget to thaw your food, there are two safe alternatives: the microwave and cold water. Thawing in the microwave starts the cooking process, so you must cook your food immediately upon thawing. If you thaw your food in cold water, don’t leave your food in there more than two hours because the exposure to bacteria is increased.

What recipes and food items do you prefer to freeze?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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  • huskiesrock

    The purchase of a vacuum food saver is essential for good frozen food. Removes the air and the, bags, while somewhat pricey, are strong and work very well even for long-term storage.

    • Casey Slide

      That’s a great idea for someone who’ll be freezing a lot of food. Thanks for the input!

  • http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/ Patricia Singleton

    I freeze celery that I am going to put in soups or other cooked foods. Any fresh veggie that I want to later eat raw does not go in the freezer because as you said freezing changes the texture.

    • Casey Slide

      Good thing celery texture doesn’t matter too much in soups! I do that all the time too.

  • http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/ Patricia Singleton

    I freeze celery that I am going to put in soups or other cooked foods. Any fresh veggie that I want to later eat raw does not go in the freezer because as you said freezing changes the texture.

  • Heather

    I freeze in Mason jars and Pyrex bowls and have never had one break.

    • Casey Slide

      I believe because of the type of glass that Pyrex is made of, it is freezer safe. However, if you do freeze it, you need to thaw it before putting it into the oven. You are lucky that the Mason jars did not break. I know there are some Mason jars that are freezer safe so could you have been using those?

      • http://blog.secondchancefit.com/ Heather

        We use it just for storage, not for freezer-to-oven, so we haven’t had to worry about that with the Pyrex.

        I don’t know if the Mason jars are any special kind or not — we just bought them at the grocery store. Just got lucky, I guess!

        • Casey Slide

          It’s a great idea to use Mason jars though. I bet it saves a lot of space. I’m going to check them out next time I go to the store!

  • Victoriathayer

    What about freezing fresh fruit, such as; blueberries? I bought a large bag of frozen blueberries from GFS and when I took a few out I was so disappointed in the texture that I couldn’t really enjoy them. I still have them, but only to use in smoothies and baking. Is it possible to freeze fruits in a way that keeps the original flavor and texture so that they taste fresh and can be enjoyed on cereal or just alone as a snack?

    • Casey Slide

      I’ve always heard that you can freeze blueberries. I just did a Google search and was able to find sites that gave instructions on freezing fruits specifically. There is a lot of information out there that you’d find helpful. Good luck!

  • ann

    I have had a lot of trouble with ice crystals in bags of frozen vegetables that I have opened and then put back in the freezer. I try my best to make sure I take all the air out and close them well. Even when they have a built in zip lock closure, I have problems. Would it be better to transfer the vegies to freezer bags and freeze in small amounts? One trick I have used for freezing things like ground meat, is to wrap the portions in wax paper and then put them into freezer bags. Seems to cut down on any freezer burn or ice crystals.

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