2 week old frozen bananas

Prevent Product Quality Losses by Preventing Freezer Burn

To keep your business running efficiently and smoothly you regularly freeze your products or ingredients. Whether it’s pie crusts to prepare for the major Thanksgiving rush, meat to get a bulk discount, or a tub of ice cream for the desserts you serve.

Freezing keeps them good for longer. But, if you don’t freeze your food well, it might develop those dried out areas on the surfaces. The dreaded freezer burn. It can make a frozen product completely useless, and unsellable.

Luckily, you can prevent freezer burn from happening, using a few basic guidelines, allowing you to safely freeze your food, without risking losing out on product quality.

Freezer burn = dried frozen food

Generally speaking, by freezing you can extend the shelf life of a wide range of foods, without dramatically impacting their quality. Meat, many (unfrosted) cakes, ice cream, cookies, doughs, even cheeses, can all be frozen well. That is, if you store them properly.

However, if you don’t store them properly you may find that after some weeks, or months, seemingly dry spots form on the food. It can be a whitish-looking spot on a steak, or a dried-out chunk of ice cream.

This is freezer burn. It’s a counterintuitive name because the food hasn’t actually burnt in the traditional sense, because of heat. Instead, the food simply dried out, which may sound counterintuitive as well. How can food dry out in the freezer? Hasn’t all water solidified into ice?

An irreversible process

But no. Even in a freezer, moisture can and will evaporate. It can even turn into a gas from solid ice directly, without melting first. This is called sublimation. Sublimation is a very slow process in the freezer, which is why most freezer burn takes weeks, or months to develop. Once it’s happened, it is very hard to bring back the original texture. But, there’s a lot you can do to prevent it from happening!

Preventing Freezer Burn

1. Use a vacuum pack

One of the best ways to prevent freezer burn from happening is to vacuum wrap the food before storing it in the freezer. By vacuum packing food you pull out all the air and, as a result, the packaging itself sits tightly against the product. This makes it virtually impossible for water to turn into a gas and leave the product. For water to leave the product it needs to be able to move into (dry) air. If there’s no surrounding air, it can’t evaporate.

Check your packaging specifications

To ensure that the vacuum pack truly protects you product you need to make sure it’s suited for freezing and vacuum packaging your product. The most important parameter to look at is how easy it is for moisture to move through the packaging.

Even though many plastics look as if they’re impenetrable to water, most aren’t. Water gases can still move through the material, be it at a very slow rate. However, in a freezer you don’t want this slow movement either.

Look for the water vapor permeability of your packaging material and talk to your packaging supplier about your specific application.

Sometimes, vacuum packaging can do more harm than good

Vacuum packing works great for meat, cheese, and seafood. But, it doesn’t work for every food. Imagine trying to vacuum pack marshmallows. During packaging, you’re pulling out all the air, to pull a vacuum. However, as a result, you’ll also pull air out of the marshmallows, causing them to collapse. If your product collapses as a result of vacuum packaging, don’t use it.

The same applies to products that have a tendency to stick together. By pulling a vacuum they’ll be pushed against each other since all the air in between is pulled out. This causes them to stick even more. It’s why it’s better not to use vacuum packaging on products such as grated cheese.

2. Fill it up

In order for a product to develop freezer burn, the water in the product should be able to enter the surrounding air. Another way to limit the amount of air and thus space for water to go into is by simply filling up your packaging as much as possible. It’s why some ice cream brand fill their ice cream tubs right up to the top. That way, freezer burn doesn’t stand a chance.

close up of ice crystals on frozen raspberries
Small fruits and products are more sensitive to freezer burn than larger products due to the increased surface area. In the case of raspberries, you can’t change their size, but their are instances where you might want to freeze the big version of your product as opposed to the cut/grated version to extend shelf life.

3. Minimize air flow

Water evaporates more quickly if the evaporated water can quickly move away from the product itself. The same happens in a freezer. If there’s a strong flow of air, the air flow will move away any water vapor that forms. As a result, the air surrounding products remains quite dry. This again makes it easier for new water to sublimate from ice into gas. Causing your product to dry out!

As such, be careful with strong air flows in freezers where unwrapped products are stored. Yes, you may need the air flow to freeze the products quickly. But, once frozen, you run the risk of freezer burn. So, either wrap products, or store them in freezers that don’t move the air as much, so your product stays good for a longer period of time.

4. Limit freezing times

Lastly, if none of the other measures work for your specific application, you may have to look at simply reducing the overall storage time in your freezer. Some products simply can’t be stored for months or even years in the freezer. You may be limited to a shorter amount of time.

Strategies to prevent freezer burn

Freezing products is a great way to reduce costs and prepare for high volume periods in your business. However, improperly storing products in your freezer can result in irreversible freezer burn, a major quality defect.

But, by properly packaging your product, and by reducing the overall time in the freezer, you can prevent freezer burn in many cases.

Use these to design your next packaging solutions and internal processes. Need help with this? Let me know what it is you’re struggling with and we’ll discuss if and how I can help in a discovery call.

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