There's only one instance when you should definitely toss food affected by freezer burn.
Freezer burn can be a serious issue for home cooks when it comes to the quality of food—especially since more supermarkets are discounting meat in bulk. Preserving your meat in the freezer is perfectly safe, especially if you take time to wrap it correctly to avoid freezer burn. If your purchase still ends up developing a frosty layer, you might wonder: is it safe to eat?
To answer the question, you should understand what exactly happens when freezer burn occurs. Whether you have chicken thighs or ground beef in your freezer, there's inherent moisture in your meat. Over time, the meat will slowly dry out, leaving the water to accumulate on the surface of the food itself.
As the United States Department of Agriculture explains, any loose liquid within packaged meats will turn into ice crystals, leading to discolored and tough-looking patches that weren't there when you first stored it in your freezer. Chicken may appear to be pinker or take on a bright white hue, whereas beef can turn a shade of brown.
In these instances you might be inclined to toss your meat, but USDA officials say that any meat affected by freezer burn is safe to eat. While your steak may taste a little “off”, you won't actually be at any greater risk for foodborne illness.
More tips for safe ways to use your freezer:
The only time you should be concerned about the safety of frozen meat is when you take it out of the freezer. The USDA says the only safe place to defrost freezer-burned items is in your fridge. If you're in a hurry to get dinner started, experts recommend using the “defrost” option on your microwave—but you should never leave freezer-burned meat out on a counter for an extended period of time.
Bacteria can grow rapidly, thanks to the melting ice that has formed on the exterior of the meat (rather than on the interior, which can preserve the meat for longer periods of time).
You should also check your meat’s packaging—has it become torn or ripped in any way? Freezer burn is safe if the meat hasn't been exposed to the interior of your freezer directly—if the plastic or wax paper has torn, it's no longer safe to eat.
Strategically wrapping your meat—especially in tougher-to-tear wax paper—can help safely retain moisture for up to four months in your freezer, according to the Food and Drug Administration. It also can help preserve the taste and quality of your meat.