Well, today is cleaning the freezer day. It’s been a while since this has been done, and believe me, it was due. I don’t know why we insist on saving the last drop of gravy or a few spoonfuls of vegetables, but we do. Very often they are freezer burned and unusable by the time we find them again.
What is freezer burn and why does it happen?
Freezer burn is a major culprit in frozen food becoming unpalatable. It will set in if:
- Your freezer temperature fluctuates.
- Food wasn’t stored in freezer-safe containers.
- Food is left in longer than it should be.
All meats have limits as to how long they can be left in the freezer without some loss of nutrients.
Freezer burn is caused when food is damaged by dehydration and oxidation due to air reaches the product.
Meats and vegetables stored in a manual-defrost freezer will last longer than those stored in automatic-defrost freezers. That is because the temperature of a manual defrost freezer remains closer to 0 °F/-18 °C, while the temperature of automatic defrost freezers fluctuates during the defrost cycle. If you aren’t sure what your freezer temperature is, place a thermometer inside and check it every couple of hours throughout the day.
The good news is that freezer burn doesn’t cause illness. The bad news is that freezer burned food will look unappetizing because it loses color and shrivels up. It also just tastes “off” and will be bland and chewy. Depending on your circumstances, if times are tough, you may want to go ahead and use the meat regardless of the freezer burn.
How to package food to avoid freezer burn
Most of the packages of meat I bring home are in cellophane and black foam containers. These are not at all airtight and you will end up with freezer burn if the meat isn’t thawed, cooked, and eaten within a few short weeks.
To preserve the meat as long as possible, you have to repackage it. The method I use is to, first, wrap it in plastic wrap and then either put the package in plastic Ziploc-style bags, wrap in foil, or put in a storage container with a lid. Don’t forget to mark them. The better the packaging, the longer the meat will last.
If you have a Food Saver, you can also use it to seal your meats, cheese, cold cuts, fish or chicken. The plastic bags or roll of plastic for these food savers are expensive, but this is a very effective way to insure food remains fresh.
There are some containers you should not use. Don’t use non-freezer type containers, like the ones yogurt or cottage cheese come in. Don’t reuse plastic freezer bags even after washing, since bacteria can grow in the plastic from the meat juice while defrosting.
Using freezer burned food
If you can afford it, remove the freezer burned areas and discoloration with a knife before cooking. If you have to use the whole piece of meat, including the freezer burned portions, I recommend cutting the meat into small bite size pieces and let it slow cook. Make something like stew or chili. This will help to improve the taste and the texture as much as possible.
If it is too bad to use, never throw it out. It makes good dog or cat food. They’ll think it’s a treat! If they turn up their noses at it, well, be grateful you didn’t try serving it to your family!
As with any food you are storing, the best idea is to rotate and avoid the problems of freezer burned meats in the first place.