Since COVID-19, many people worldwide have been freezing more food, but for how long can you freeze food without it suffering freezer burn?
In the United States, there has been a 400% increase of freezer sales by GE Appliances since the start of the pandemic. The freezer is your quiet, unassuming necessary partner in the kitchen that combats food waste, holds backup meals for later and fresh ingredients that can be turned into quick dinners, as well as making ice-cold cocktails possible. But sometimes food stays in the freezer for longer than anticipated, making it susceptible to frozen food’s worst enemy: freezer burn.
What is freezer burn?
Freezer burn occurs when food experiences moisture loss. It happens when air is circulating around food in the freezer and there’s space for the moisture to gather around the food. The moisture comes to the surface of the food and turns into ice crystals, leaving behind drier food that usually has a change in texture, colour and flavour. The loss of water molecules causes dehydration, making the appearance of frozen food discolour and change to a shrivelled, dry and tough appearance. Water loss allows oxygen to cause changes in flavour and colour, especially in red meat, poultry and fish that wasn’t wrapped well.
Is freezer burn food safe to eat?
Freezer burn doesn’t necessarily carry food-borne bacteria and is usually still safe to eat. The texture will be different and won’t be as good as before the freezer burn occurred, but can still be consumed. Remember to freeze it fresh and thaw it correctly. If you eat food that has been affected by freezer burn, you can trim off the affected areas and use the rest.
How to minimise freezer burn:
To prevent or minimise freezer burn, you want your food to come into as little contact with air as possible, so here are helpful tips:
1. Double-wrap your food before freezing
For baked goods like bread, cakes or cookies, use two layers of wrapping – first in plastic wrap then in aluminium foil – and seal inside a freezer or plastic bag. It will also prevent the food from drying out as it defrosts.
2. Pack in a tight fit
To prevent freezer burn, you need to freeze the food in the smallest container possible. This can be a freezer-proof jar, plastic container or plastic bag. But remember that freezer bags are thicker and better to use than ordinary plastic bags. For minced meat, think taller containers rather than wider or press into a flat, thin layer in a plastic bag – it minimises freezer burn but cuts down on thawing time. Double-wrap opened packaged foods. If you have half a bag of frozen vegetables, wrap a rubber band around the opening and put it into a freezer bag. The outer freezer bag is also reusable, as it is not touching the food.
3. Vacuum seal foods
Vacuum sealing works well for frozen food storage, as vacuum sealing removes all the extra air from the plastic bag, making it the best way to prevent freezer burn. As an added bonus, you can also season or marinate meats before vacuum sealing and then cook or defrost it straight in or from the bag.
4. Make a barrier for ice cream
You’ve probably experienced the disappointment of opening an unsealed container of ice cream and discovering a layer of fuzzy ice crystals on top. This is also a form of freezer burn, which can easily be prevented by pressing a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper directly onto the ice cream surface each time before you put the closed ice cream container back in the freezer. It prevents ice crystals from forming so that you’re still left with delicious, creamy ice cream from top to bottom. Also don’t let the whole container reach room temperature before returning it to the freezer.
5. Individual quick-freezing
Quick-freeze individual food like chopped strawberries or bananas to blend for smoothies, or mix into pancake or muffin batter later. Place the food in a single layer on a baking sheet so that the pieces aren’t touching and freeze until solid. Then transfer the pieces to the smallest container possible or small freezer bags for later use to prevent freezer burn.
Also remember to keep your freezer’s temperature at the optimal -18◦C to maintain the quality of your frozen foods.
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