How to tell if chicken is freezer burnt

Updated April 16, 2018

Freezing food is a quick and easy way of preserving it. All frozen foods retain most of their taste and nutritional value in the short term but, unless proper precautions are taken, food stored in a freezer will eventually begin to deteriorate to some degree. A common problem experienced with frozen meats, most notably chicken, that have been stored for a long time is freezer burn.

Freezer burn

Freezer burn occurs when food loses moisture due to evaporation and becomes dehydrated. Cold air circulating inside a freezer removes water from meat stored inside through a process known as sublimation. This process will eventually affect all food stored in a freezer but will happen more rapidly to foods that are improperly wrapped or if the temperature inside the storage area fluctuates above zero.

Signs of freezer burn

Freezer burn produces dry, white or pale grey patches on the surface of skinless chicken portions. These patches remain tough and leathery, even when the chicken has fully thawed. If the chicken still has its skin in place, freezer burn will appear as a series of brown, leathery spots and patches on its surface that are hard and dry to the touch.

Health and safety

Chicken that is freezer burnt remains safe to eat, though its taste and texture will be greatly impaired. Changes in colour may also make the chicken appear unappetising. Even after cooking, the freezer burnt portions will remain dry and stringy. If possible, cut away the burnt sections prior to cooking. Despite the lack of health issues, heavily freezer burnt chicken is best discarded as it is likely to be unpalatable.


Freezer burn can be prevented by properly wrapping the chicken prior to storage. Plastic wrap or foil are the most effective solutions as they ensure only a minimal amount of air remains in contact with the meat. If freezer bags are used, as much air as possible should be squeezed out of them. If the chicken is to be stored in an airtight container, it should be as full as possible to minimise the amount of air inside.

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About the Author

Based in London, Anthony Thompson originally worked in the financial sector but has been writing professionally since 1992. The former editor of a monthly computing and technology magazine, his work has appeared in The Guardian, GQ and Time Out.