Ever since man has learned to hunt, he also realized that food is limited according to the seasons and the place. He also learned that in order to survive, sometimes he needs to make food last longer than usual—sometimes weeks on end. To this end, man discovered how to preserve foods. Food preservation then became one of the most important means of survival, especially today when the world’s resources have become more limited.
Between then and now, the methods of preserving foods have varied and evolved. The methods range from the most basic to a far more complex process involving the use of machines. There is canning, adding food preservatives, drying, and sugar crystallization. Some methods even add to the flavor of the food, such as smoking, salting, and picking.
Among the most widely used and common method of preserving the food is the utilization of cold in the process called freezing. The property of ice and cold to preserve something for years have long been known by man so it was just a matter of time before the same knowledge is applied to food. Freezing slows food decay by making the environment non-conducive for bacterial growth as well as slowing down most chemical reactions. However, while it slows the deterioration of food by stopping the growth of micro-organisms, it does not kill them. The enzyme activities are also only slowed, so sometimes, it is necessary to add chemicals to stop it.
By freezing, foods can be preserved for several months. Long-term freezing requires a constant temperature of less than zero degrees Celsius. Any fluctuations in the temperature will result in the reduction of the time the food can be kept in the freezer. Aside from this, it also contributes to what is known as freezer burn.
Freezer Burn and Getting Rid of It
Freezer burn, also called freezerburn, is a condition that happens when frozen food is damaged by ice crystals due to the air reaching the food. When a food gets freezer burn, it usually has dry areas, spots of discoloration, and formations of ice crystals, making it look unsightly and unhealthy. Even with the physical manifestation though, foods with freezer burn are still safe and they can still be eaten, with the caveat that the quality is altered, with the sever ones being tasteless or metallic in taste.
Freezer burn happens when there is exposure to the air and moisture is lost, in a process called sublimation. Water evaporates at all temperatures, even if it appears like solid ice. When the constantly moving moisture molecules in the food migrate to the surface, ice crystals are formed. The parts that are deprives of these moistures then become dry and shriveled, giving the characteristic look of food burn.
Even if the package has never been opened, freezer burn can still occur because of the tendency of molecules to escape solids via vapor pressure, especially water. Fluctuations of the temperature inside the freezer also set up temperature gradients within the food and air in the freezer, creating additional motivation for water molecules to move from their original positions.
There are several ways to reduce or prevent freezer burns, of course. Here are just some of them.
- Keep the freezer as cold as possible. If the food is not as cold to begin with and the temperature inside the freezer starts to fluctuate, then your food will be a prime candidate for freezer burns. A constant change of temperature can cause the food to freeze and thaw alternately, causing the burn. For the best results, get the temperatures to zero or less, if that’s possible. Otherwise, keep the temperature as low as you can and then keep it that way. Never change the temperature constantly and make sure that your freezer is working in top shape to prevent temperature fluctuations.
- Pack the food as tightly as possible. Make sure that you remove as much air as possible when you pack the food. Air is a prime component in causing major freezer burn. You want the packaging to be as thick and airtight as possible. In fact, there are some products sold by certain companies that are especially designed for freezing, including thick sealable plastic bags, heavy plastic containers, and freezer safe glass. Take the time to press the air out when you seal them by putting a straw into the bag and zipping the bag around it. Then, suck as much air out via the straw as possible, remove the straw, and then completely seal the bag. Doing so should create a sort of vacuum effect inside the bag, creating some sort of a moisture barrier that will prevent the dry cold air of the freezer from sucking out the moisture of the sealed food.Another method is to use wax paper on top of the frozen food.
- Organize the contents of the freezer properly. It is important that you organize the freezer properly. Make sure that there is ample space around the top and sides of the freezer so that air can circulate properly, keeping the temperature inside the freezer stable. A hand’s width of room on all sides should be enough for this. If your freezer has a shelf, then leave room around the shelf as well. While you’re at it, throw out old foods and label everything in there as well. Doing so will allow you to just open the freezer, get what you want right away, and then close the freezer, giving less chance for the temperature to change.
- Don’t put hot food directly into the freezer. Doing so will just elevate the freezer temperature. Just put the hot food in the fridge to cool it off, making sure that you leave the lid off or afar in order to prevent the moisture from collecting in the container. Once the food has sufficiently cooled off, then you can put it in the freezer, making sure to seal it tightly as advised in the second tip.
Freezer burns will not harm you physically, although it will make the food taste less. You can still cut off the parts that are affected and still enjoy the food, but like most things, it is always better to prevent that from happening in the first place.
Click here for more information on how to get rid of freezer burn.