How to Prevent Freezer Burn Once and For All

So you never have to throw out a pint of ice cream again.

August  4, 2022
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Freezers are magical appliances: They allow us to save homemade soups and sauces for months on end, keep ice cream frozen for our daily after-dinner sundaes, and store ice for cocktail parties (a must). As essential as it is to freeze leftovers and frozen pizzas for zippy suppers, freezers aren’t always our friends. In fact, they can sometimes be the foe—namely, when so-called “freezer burn” infiltrates our supply of frozen foods.

Let’s get one thing clear: Freezer-burned food is completely safe to eat. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “freezer burn is a food-quality issue, not a food safety issue.” The FDA notes that freezer burn often presents itself as “as grayish-brown leathery spots” on the food in question. So even though freezer burn doesn’t always look or taste quite right, it doesn’t mean your food is spoiled or otherwise harmful if consumed.

That being said, freezer burn can render the items in your freezer wholly unappetizing, covering them in swaths of ice crystals and leaving them with a bland, off taste. So how does freezer burn form? It’s actually quite simple: As Shelly Schmidt, professor of food chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explained, freezer burn is simply a byproduct of moisture loss, or dehydration.

When food is exposed to the cold, dry environment of a freezer, its water content—in the form of ice—undergoes sublimation, a process by which solids are transformed directly into a gaseous state. After this ice is drawn out from frozen food as vapor, it’s then redeposited on the surface as ice crystals. This is why freezer burn so often results in food that’s simultaneously discolored, shriveled, or leathery and covered in ice crystals.

Okay, but how do I avoid freezer burn in the first place?

Now that we’ve cleared up what freezer burn actually is, we’re in a better place to protect our food from its not-so-tasty effects. Because freezer burn results from contact with the freezer’s cold, dry air, the simplest way to avoid the problem is by minimizing that exposure in the first place.

“Different types of [materials] will vary in how much air they let through them, as well as odors and what we call moisture vapor, or airborne moisture,” says Elizabeth Andress, food safety specialist and professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia. Plastic or silicone zip-top bags are one great option for limiting air exposure, and for larger items, double-wrapping first with plastic wrap and then with heavy-duty aluminum foil will do the trick.

Though these solutions are pretty solid, if you’re looking for the maximum level of protection against freezer burn, you may want to bite the bullet and purchase a vacuum sealer—especially if you plan on freezing food often and for long periods of time. “In addition to pulling the air out of the package, they are much more preventative at letting anything [in the air] transmit through the plastic itself,” says Andress.

Whether you’re using a high-tech vacuum sealer or good ol’ cling wrap, the same principle applies: Keep your frozen food wrapped as securely and tightly as possible. Your make-ahead meals, ice cream, and dino nuggets will thank you.

What's your favorite tip for avoiding dreaded freezer burn? Tell us in the comments!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • ericbc7
  • Dubyel
  • kiwi
  • fxdp
  • W J Freeman
    W J Freeman
Anabelle Doliner

Written by: Anabelle Doliner

Staff Editor


ericbc7 August 15, 2022
If you don’t have access to a vacuum sealer, raw poultry or fowl can be protected from freezer burn by submerging in water then freezing it. I.e. place chicken parts in freezer zip top bag and fill bag with water to cover meat, zip closed while squeezing out any air and freeze on its side. Takes longer to thaw but keeps well.
Dubyel August 14, 2022
I really miss the Ziplock vacuum bags with the little hand pump. They were great for frozen items. They were also easy to open and reseal, so they were great for keeping items like bagged salad fresh in the refrigerator. And they had the added bonus of no giant, expensive, cumbersome electric appliance to deal with. Seems like every electric sealer I ever had also had at least one small spot where the bag wouldn't seal properly.
kiwi August 13, 2022
I was told by a producer of ice cream, who sold other frozen foods, that the best way to freeze meat was to wet it first, then tightly wrap. Sounds wrong on so many levels, but it actually works.

fxdp August 12, 2022
Another advantage of vacuum sealing is that you can defrost a package in cold water -- no water leakage.
W J. August 12, 2022
You bet! And what a lot of folks do not realize is that most vacuum sealing bags are "boil in" bags.

That is, a well sealed FoodSaver or chamber vac bag, can go straight from the freezer into a pot of boiling water to reheat, to cook, or to finish cooking.
fxdp August 11, 2022
Since I shop at Costco, I have been a sealing fanatic for longer than I care to admit. I used to wrap meat multiple times in StretchTite, then aluminum foil sealed with masking tape. Works OK, but not great. A vacuum sealer is the way to go, 100% without a doubt. People say six months, but I have had great steaks after a year. The bags can be washed and reused. I find wrapping the meat or burgers in plastic wrap and then vacuum sealing works best if you freeze multiple pieces in a single bag -- it makes the bags easier to wash and it's so much easier to remove a single piece of meat or burger and then reseal (when they are wrapped, they don't freeze together). I prefer the cheaper vacuum sealers without all the bells and whistles. They work just as well as the pricier ones, but have a nice compact footprint. You can buy excellent bags online for much less than the name brand ones. Buy a vacuum sealer. You will not regret it. SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE BEST HAND WRAPPING.

As for ice cream, I find that if you press a piece of plastic wrap tightly against the ice cream (so that there are no air pockets), it keeps quite well and doesn't develop ice crystals. This is similar to what Jaques Pepin suggests, but you don't have to pre-scoop and wrap.
W J. August 12, 2022
I couldn't agree more, fxdp. We have been vacuum sealing for more than 30 years. We used bags as well as jars with the vacuum sealing attachments. We vac seal leftovers, cheese, charcuterie, in bags. Fresh veggies such as a part of an avocado, or bell pepper in mason jars or even a vac bag.

And like you we have always washed and reused bags until they were too small.

But the real breakthrough came, when our last FoodSaver died and I vowed enough! I purchased an Avid Armour Chamber vacuum. It is so much better than a FoodSaver. The bags are 10X cheaper, and the unit is so much more versatile in that one can vacuum seal liquids without having to freeze first.

We still have a FoodSaver generic type for some larger bags such as chips and for using an external vacuum line for sealing jars, etc., that will not lay down within the chamber vac.

But for 90% of things it is a dream. No special patterned nylon bags, though composite bags do hold out permeable gases such as O2 better. One can even cut off the top of a Ziploc type PE bag and use that in a chamber vac.

I buy meat and veggies when I find then on quick sale. Then I bring them home and repackage into vac bags, now using the chamber vac. We save a lot of money that way and even are able to help out a granddaughter in college with her food by supplying vac packed meats, veggies, prepared foods, and treats that she can't afford ordinarily.
W J. August 11, 2022
Ms. Doliner,
The operative word is "sublimation." You write as if you don't have much of a science background and have questionable credentials to write an authoritative piece on freezer burn in that you are relying on the authority of others whom you cite.

Sublimation is the phase transfer of a solid (water) to a gas (water vapor) without going through the liquid phase. Thus the ice crystals that collect inside a partially filled container which has been in a freezer for a while is the water that came from the food, whose vapor condensed on another surface.

In other words, freezer burn = dehydration for the most part and the resultant changes to the food is usually pretty much irreversible. You are correct however in that the food value is more or less unaffected.

In the simplest terms, if there is no headspace above the food, then there is no room place for water vapor from sublimation to go. Wrapping tightly slows but does not entirely stop freezer burn. Vacuum sealing stops it completely along with other issues such as slow oxidation and other chemical reactions that can occur even at low temperatures.

FoodSaver type machines are great, but a chamber vacuum machine is the ultimate.

Really, Food52 should get a science editor...

I'm a Ph.D. Organic Chemist, retired
Elizabeth August 11, 2022
Jacque Pepin suggests wrapping scoops of ice cream in plastic wrap rather than.
Having a partially used container of ice cream in the freezer. Store in a zip
Lock and no more ice crystals Saves space too!
Ofd#4301 August 7, 2022
How do you handle vacuuming sealing soft foods I.e. bread?
violist August 11, 2022
I think I saw that the newer FoodSavers have specific settings for sealing soft foods such as bread as well as foods with liquids.
bjm August 11, 2022
I have a newer machine with both a gentle and a pulse function. However, I have found that to really ensure a non-squashed fragile item, pre-freeze the items first. Laying items in single layers on a sheet pan and partially freezing, then vacuuming the items works well. I don't often freeze bread, but when I do, I layer the slices with parchment squares. Hope this helps.
fxdp August 11, 2022
RE: vacuum sealing soft foods such as bread - freeze the bread first, then vacuum seal.