What causes freezer burn and how can I prevent it?

I went into my freezer during finals week to get the ice cream that I had been saving for some time. When I pulled it out, there were ice crystals all over it, and it was too hard to dig a spoon into. I used Google to diagnose it, and it turned out to be freezer burn. Freezer burn is a common problem, but what causes freezer burn and how can it be prevented? Hopefully you can prevent freezer burn in the future once you've read this article! 

11 things you should never put in your freezer
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11 things you should never put in your freezer

Soft cheeses such as ricotta, goat, or cream cheese tend to separate when frozen and thawed, which leads to strange textural changes. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar are usually a safe bet, but you're still better off buying only what you need and storing it properly in the fridge.

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Cream, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, and custard all separate and curdle in the freezer.

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Eggs can expand when frozen, causing the shell to crack and potentially let bacteria in—never a good thing. Cooked eggs and egg-based sauces like hollandaise, mayonnaise, and meringue are also poor freezer candidates. If you really have to freeze eggs, crack them, whisk them (or separate the whites and yolks) and store in an airtight container.

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The crispy, craggily, gloriously fried exterior of fried foods—that is, the best part—is lost when frozen and defrosted. Unless soggy is your thing, keep these suckers away from the cold.

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It's OK to freeze unopened, freshly-roasted bags of coffee for up to a month. But once you open the bag and start taking it in and out of the freezer, the coffee can get ruined. Thawing and refreezing yields condensation on the beans which causes them to absorb freezer smells.

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Produce that has a high water content (cucumbers, watermelon, lettuce) gets limp and soggy when frozen and defrosted.

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Try to thaw a bunch of fresh herbs from frozen and you'll be left with a brown, soggy mess. Instead, turn your herbs into compound butter or pesto, both of which freeze impeccably.

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Cooked pasta turns into a mushy puddle of gluten after it's frozen. Avoid at all costs.

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Thickened sauces like gravy and béchamel separate when frozen and thawed. Not a good look.

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The texture of avocados changes when frozen, so you can kiss that silky interior goodbye. (But really, when have you ever had trouble using up a haul?) (Oh, wait, you have? You should probably read this.)

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When was the last time you craved a soft, grainy potato? Exactly.

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What Is Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn is a common occurrence when we store things in our freezer. The technical definition of freezer burn is the dehydration of food when it is in the freezer. But what does that mean? Basically, when food is frozen, the water molecules inside of the food freeze to form ice crystals. The maintenance of these ice crystals allows the food to remain frozen and to be thawed later.

However, when food is not sealed properly, the water can escape from the food before it is completely frozen. This causes the food to get dehydrated and can alter the taste and texture of the food. 

What Causes Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn often happens when the temperature of your freezer is not consistent. The temperature of your freezer will rise to a certain point, which will start the thawing process for everything that you have in your freezer. The ice crystals that have formed in and around your food will melt, leaving water in your food. The temperature of your freezer then drops back below freezing.

How the food refreezes depends on how fast the freezing process goes. If it's a slow refreeze, the water will stay in the food, having simply changed places. This kind of refreeze will not harm your food at first, but too many refreezes will start to taint the quality of your food. If it is a fast refreeze, however, this can be especially harmful to your food. The temperature drops too fast for the food to refreeze, and the water is lost. This causes the dehydration of the food.

How Can I Prevent Freezer Burn?

There are many ways that freezer burn can be prevented. The easiest way to be to buy Ziploc bags and to make sure they're sealed before you put your food in the freezer. Your freezer should be set to about 0ºF (on most freezers, this setting is the "Cold" or "Low" setting). If your freezer is set any higher or lower, your food will either freeze too fast or not get frozen enough.

Another way to keep your food safe from freezer burn is to freeze the food in smaller amounts. If the food takes up all of the space in its container and the container doesn't have a lot of excess air, the food will last longer in the freezer. The most important thing to remember when keeping food in the freezer is not to leave your food in the freezer for too long. The longer that it is in the freezer, the greater chance there is for the food to get ruined.

Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and we should all make sure that we take care of our food. Now that you know what causes freezer burn and how to prevent it, you can make freezer burn one less thing that can ruin the food that you've been saving.

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