Can you cook chicken with freezer burn? The answer is, yes, you can — but I wouldn’t recommend it. Let’s take a look at why that would be a bad idea, and how to best avoid this issue before it starts.
We all have that frozen or thawed out chicken that’s started to get freezer burn. The thought of this once tasty and delectable bird cooking in your frying pan is enough to throw your appetite, but maybe you shouldn’t let it go?
The Ultimate Guide to Freezer-Burned Food Safety
And How to Prevent It
Is it safe to eat freezer-burned food? The quick answer is yes. Freezer burn is simply the result of air coming into contact with food, and while it may not look appetizing, it is usually safe to eat.1 However, since freezer burn often affects the flavor and texture of food, you may not want to consume food with severe freezer burn.
All foods get freezer burn eventually, but most properly stored foods should maintain their quality in the freezer for six months to a year. If you find that your frozen foods are developing freezer burn sooner than that, it’s time to do a bit of investigating to root out the cause. Improperly wrapped food or a malfunctioning freezer could be the culprits.
When to Use Food With Freezer Burn
If your food only has light freezer burn and you plan to cook it thoroughly, then defrost it properly and use as planned. If certain sections have more severe freezer burn than others, you can cut these parts away before cooking. Regardless, if freezer burn is the only problem, the food will still be safe to eat.1
When to Toss Food With Freezer Burn
Freezer burn may not make food unsafe to eat, but it can affect the taste, texture, and color. Severely freezer-burned food will have an off taste that is especially noticeable in raw foods. If the freezer burn is extensive, it’s best to toss the food and learn from your mistakes.
Note that while freezer burn on its own does not make food unsafe to eat, foods that are frozen under improper conditions can still go bad.1 If the food has an off smell upon defrosting, discard it. Pay attention to how long foods have been in the freezer to ensure they are eaten at their peak and follow these tips to avoid freezer burn.
How to Avoid Freezer Burn
A few simple precautions will help to avoid freezer burn in the future, ensuring your frozen foods will be in peak condition when you’re ready to use them.
Wrap Foods Correctly
Remove foods from their store packaging if you don’t plan to use the food right away—especially when it comes to meat, poultry, and fish. The thin cellophane used to wrap meat isn’t thick enough to keep air from getting in. Freezer paper or a freezer bag is much better suited for the job. There are specific steps you should take to repackage foods for the freezer to ensure they last as long as possible.
If you have a regular butcher that you purchase raw meat from, ask if they can wrap your order in freezer paper.
Use Freezer-Safe Containers
Not all food storage containers are designed for freezer use. Freezer-safe containers are made of thicker plastic or glass. While it may be tempting to reuse grocery store packaging to freeze foods, these types of containers aren’t up to the task. Air will end up getting in, and they’re just too thin to protect against the cold. The same is true for regular plastic bags. Only use bags, jars, and containers that are labeled for freezer use. While they’re more expensive, you’ll save money in the long run by not throwing out freezer-burned food.
Watch for Trapped Air
Air is the enemy of frozen foods. If you aren’t squeezing the air out of your freezer bags before you stick them in the freezer, you’re setting yourself up for early freezer burn. This is why vacuum sealers have become so popular in recent years.
Let Foods Cool
If you let hot food cool down, you can ensure that you’re not trapping steam inside the packaging. Steam is not friendly to frozen food—it ends up turning into ice crystals. Plus, if food is too hot when you put it in the freezer, other foods may start to thaw out. You need to do this safely, though.
First, if you are working with soup, stew, or a large dish, divide into smaller portions. If you are working with a whole chicken, divide it into parts. Fill your sink with ice water, and place the well-sealed containers of food into the sink to cool (do not allow the sink water to leak into the containers).
The USDA recommends cooling food as rapidly as possible, either in the refrigerator or in an ice bath.2 Remember, bacteria grows fastest between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. See the USDA’s chart of safe food temperatures for more information.
Label and Inventory
Label everything that goes into the freezer with the name of the item and date to help keep track of your frozen food. Different foods have different shelf lives in the freezer, and some last longer frozen than others (See the USDA’s freezer duration chart.). For example, while bacon will last only one to two months, chicken and turkey will last for up to one year. Take note of the average freezer life for each food and consider adding this expiry date to your labels.
Foods often develop freezer burn when they get pushed to the back of the freezer and are forgotten. Start a freezer inventory list to stay on top of what you have on hand so that you can plan meals around it—and reach for the oldest frozen product first.
Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat? We ask a food safety expert
Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat, despite its unappetizing appearance? The answer might surprise you…
Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat? You might have been left asking yourself this if you’ve encountered signs of freezer burn on your chicken. Even the best freezers(opens in new tab) can leave your meat with freezer burn if it’s been left in there for too long or has accidentally been left uncovered.
There’s no question that freezer burn can be a nuisance, changing the appearance of meat that was fresh when frozen. We’ve asked our food safety expert for her advice on how to spot it – as well as asking, is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?
Christina Ratcliffe is the Managing Director of The Food Safety Company(opens in new tab), a business that provides food safety consultancy services to food and beverage businesses. Having spent 25 years as a government food inspector she now uses this expert knowledge to run The Food Safety Company, giving expert advice to businesses in order to ensure that they are fully compliant with food safety and achieve top food hygiene scores.
In her capacity as a food safety expert, Christina helps to advise on best practice for professional food businesses. This includes the correct way to store and prepare food professionally, including meats such as chicken. Here she helps us understand how to spot freezer burn on your frozen chicken and answers: is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?
Spotting freezer burn on chicken
Despite the name ‘freezer burn’ the food doesn’t exactly resemble chicken burned using heat. The burn is colloquial reference to the fact that like when charred, the chicken suffers from dehydration, losing moisture and visually shriveling.
Christina explains how this happens and what to look out for on chicken stored in the freezer, “Freezer burn happens when food is frozen for a long time or food is not packaged properly so the cold air gets to the food and causes drying of the food and lead to changes in texture and flavor. This can be seen clearly when frozen raw chicken turns white and opaque or when food has lots of ice crystals on it.”
Signs of freezer burn on chicken
1. White or whitish gray areas
2. Opaque color
3. Ice crystals forming on it
Watch out for these signs occurring and prevent them by keeping food covered in packaging or air tight containers. Use food by its use-by date in order to prevent it being in the freezer for too long, exposing it to freezer burn.
Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?
WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS…
We asked Christina, ‘Is freezer burn on chicken safe to eat?’. This is what our food safety expert had to say, “Freezer-burnt foods may look unappetizing and have an unpleasant texture and off-flavor, but they’re still safe to eat if you decide to eat it and it will not make you poorly.”
It may come as a surprise, but, despite looking unappealing, it’s not unsafe to eat freezer burnt chicken. However, as Christina explained, the dehydration that has occurred on the freezer burned parts of the chicken will have deteriorated the texture and changed the flavor.
While it may be safe to eat, it won’t taste as good; with people who have eaten freezer burnt chicken reporting that it has a musty flavor. Our advice would be to dispose of the meat if it is significantly freezer burned. However, if it has only affected a part of the chicken you may wish to defrost it and cut out the freezer burned section.
How to Tell If Chicken Is Freezer-Burned
If you don’t wrap chicken correctly, you’ll see visible signs of freezer burn after a few days. Even with freezer burn, chicken stays safe to eat indefinably in a freezer continually registering below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. But after about nine months in the freezer, even if you’ve wrapped the chicken carefully, some freezer damage toughens the texture of the chicken and creates slightly bland or musty-tasting flavors.
The Science of Freezer Burn
Freezer burn refers to the moisture loss in foods, including chicken — similar to an actual burn caused by high heat that dries up the water contained in any food. The process happen in two ways:
- Improperly wrapped chicken allows air to suck away the moisture from the surface of the chicken, drying it out.
- When the water molecules in the chicken freeze, they move from the inside of the chicken to the outside toward the coldest sections of the freezer next to the walls. In the process, the entire piece of chicken becomes dehydrated.
What to Look For
Freezer burn on any part of chicken in pieces appears as white or whitish-gray, dry-looking spots around one or more edges of the pieces. The white, leathery areas show most clearly on skinless chicken pieces, but freezer burn also shows up on the skin. If freezer burn has occurred for more than just a few days, you may also see small ice crystals.
Cooking Freezer-Burned Chicken
If only one or two corners of a piece of chicken have freezer burn, you can go ahead and cook it as is, and it’s unlikely to show a difference in taste or texture, especially if you use a creamy or spicy sauce over the chicken. When the consistency of the chicken is important, such as with poached chicken you plan to use for chicken salad, simply trim off the white area with a sharp paring knife.
Preventing Freezer Burn
The flimsy plastic wrap on the top of a typical chicken package allows air to reach the surface of chicken. To protect the chicken, place the entire package in another sturdy freezer bag that is specifically designed to keep air out.
Foil also works well to keep air from reaching the chicken. Either wrap the packaged chicken again with foil, or wrap each piece of chicken separately, first in plastic, pressing out all the air as you seal the bag, and then again in foil.