Can freezer burned chicken make you sick?

Eating freezer burned chicken can definitely make you sick. Freezer burn causes chicken to undergo chemical changes that make it more prone to bacterial growth. Consuming freezer burned chicken can lead to food poisoning or other illnesses.

What is freezer burn?

Freezer burn refers to the dried out, icy patches that develop on frozen foods like meat and poultry. It’s caused by air reaching the food’s surface and oxidizing the proteins. This leads to a loss of moisture and quality degradation.

Freezer burn happens when food has been stored in the freezer for a long time. It also occurs more readily on foods that are not securely wrapped. Leaving space for air in the packaging makes it easier for freezer burn to happen.

Does freezer burned chicken go bad?

Yes, freezer burned chicken is considered bad and unsafe to eat. The freezer burn causes chemical changes in the chicken that make it much more prone to bacterial growth and spoilage.

Freezer burn dries out the chicken, damaging its structure. This allows bacteria, molds and yeasts to take hold much more quickly. The affected parts will have an off color or smell.

While freezing inhibits microbial growth initially, over time frozen chicken still becomes more contaminated. Freezer burned sections will have higher levels of dangerous bacteria like salmonella.

Can you get sick from eating freezer burned chicken?

There is a very high risk of getting sick from eating chicken that has freezer burn. The main health hazards are:

  • Food poisoning – Bacteria like salmonella or listeria can grow rapidly in freezer burned chicken. Eating it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever and cramps.
  • Illness from toxins – Some bacteria release toxins that are not destroyed by cooking. These can cause nausea, weakness, sweating and even paralysis.
  • Spoiled chicken disease – A bacterial infection called clostridium perfringens can occur, leading to abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

So while thoroughly cooking the freezer burned chicken can kill bacteria, their toxins and spores may remain. Eating the chicken can still make you very sick.

How can you tell if frozen chicken is still safe to eat?

Here are some ways to check if freezer burned chicken is still safe:

  • Look at color and texture – Discard chicken if flesh is faded, dried out or smells bad. Bacteria growth alters its appearance.
  • Check for ice crystals – Sizeable, rough ice crystals indicate longer freezer times and higher risk.
  • Monitor freezer temperature – Chicken stored constantly at 0°F or below is safer.
  • Consider age – Older frozen chicken has had more time for microbes to grow.
  • Where freezer burn occurs – External areas are riskier than meat’s inner areas.

When in doubt, remember that deteriorated frozen chicken has much higher chances of causing foodborne disease. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Can you salvage freezer burned chicken?

You may be able to salvage parts of the chicken that still look and smell normal. But any sections showing even slight freezer burn should be cut off and discarded.

Heavy freezer burn with distinct color changes or dried areas should be completely thrown out. Bacteria can penetrate deeper than visible damage.

To salvage what appears edible:

  • Cut away all freezer burned portions
  • Cook remaining chicken within 1-2 days
  • Cook thoroughly until 165°F internal temperature
  • Avoid consuming chicken if unsure about any part

Can you refreeze freezer burned chicken?

Previously frozen chicken should never be refrozen after thawing. The bacteria levels can increase to dangerous levels in the thawed meat.

Likewise, do not refreeze chicken with freezer burn. Any bacteria present can multiply exponentially when frozen again, since the microbes remain alive at freezing temperatures.

Refreezing magnifies the food safety hazards. Always discard thawed chicken or chicken with any freezer burn.

Can cooking make freezer burned chicken safe?

Thorough cooking can destroy the majority of bacteria present in freezer burned chicken. However, some hazards may still remain:

  • Toxins from bacteria can survive high temperatures
  • Some spores and bacteria may not be killed
  • Microorganisms can grow again if chicken is left out after cooking

So while cooking helps reduce risks, it does not completely eliminate the danger of getting sick. If the freezer burned chicken looks or smells bad at all, it’s still best not to eat it.

Can you flavor freezer burned chicken to make it safe?

Heavily seasoning freezer burned chicken cannot counteract the potential food safety issues. Spices, sauces and marinades do not have any properties that destroy microbial toxins or bacteria spores.

In some cases, adding moisture through a marinade can even encourage bacteria growth by giving them a more favorable environment to thrive. There are no shortcuts when it comes to dealing with freezer burned poultry.

What temperature should you cook freezer burned chicken to?

Chicken needs to be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a food thermometer. This temperature threshold applies whether the chicken is fresh or previously frozen.

Cooking to 165°F destroys salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria. Use a food thermometer to verify the chicken reaches this temperature throughout after cooking.

The only way to ensure unsafe bacteria have been killed is through proper cooking. Let the chicken rest for 3 minutes after cooking before consuming.

Can you get sick from sous vide freezer burned chicken?

Yes, cooking freezer burned chicken sous vide can still make you sick. Sous vide involves vacuum sealing and cooking the food in hot water.

Although sous vide tenderizes the chicken, it may not heat evenly enough throughout to destroy toxins or spores in freezer burned areas. Cooking times required to fully pasteurize the chicken can result in unappealing textures.

Plus, any pathogens that survive can rapidly multiply again if the chicken isn’t immediately refrigerated after sous vide cooking. It’s still safest to discard all freezer burned chicken even if sous vide cooking.

Can dogs eat freezer burned chicken?

No, you should not feed freezer burned chicken to dogs. Dogs can also develop food poisoning from contaminated chicken.

Dogs’ strong stomach acid helps them avoid getting sick sometimes. But they are still at risk of health issues like diarrhea, vomiting and cramps from spoiled chicken.

The bacteria, toxins or spores surviving in freezer burned chicken can be harmful for canines when ingested. It’s best not to take a chance with your pet’s health.

How long can chicken stay in the freezer before getting freezer burn?

How long chicken lasts in the freezer before getting freezer burn depends on several factors:

  • Packaging – Air-tight plastic wrap or bags keep chicken freshest.
  • Headspace – Less air trapped in the packaging is better.
  • Freezer temperature – Consistently 0°F or below is ideal.
  • Freezer maintenance – Regular defrosting reduces ice crystals.
  • Type of chicken – Boneless or ground chicken may not last as long.

Under optimal freezing conditions, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can last up to 12 months before freezer burn occurs. Whole chickens or chicken pieces may start experiencing freezer burn after 9 months.

How can you prevent chicken freezer burn?

You can help prevent or minimize freezer burn on chicken by:

  • Using air-tight, moisture proof wrapping
  • Removing as much air as possible
  • Quick freezing chicken pieces in a single layer first
  • Avoiding overcrowding the freezer
  • Placing new chicken towards the back of the freezer
  • Keeping freezer at 0°F or below
  • Cleaning freezer and defrosting regularly

It’s also a good idea to label chicken packages with dates so you can keep track of how long they’ve been frozen.

Table summarizing freezer burn risks

Appearance Safety Risk Recommendation
Surface ice crystals Low Trim freezer burned portions
Dull coloring Moderate Cook thoroughly if salvaging
Dry spots High Discard affected chicken
Odor Very high Throw out all chicken


Freezer burned chicken is extremely prone to bacterial contamination and can make you very sick if eaten. The color, texture and smell of chicken are the best ways to judge if it is still safe.

Trim any sections with minimal ice crystals, but discard chicken with heavy freezer burn. Thoroughly cook salvageable parts within 1-2 days without refreezing. When unsure if chicken is still good, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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