Shrimp that has been in the freezer for too long and developed freezer burn can still be safe to eat, but the quality and taste will be diminished. Freezer burn only affects the texture and flavor of shrimp, not the safety. As long as the shrimp was frozen while still fresh and has been kept continuously frozen, it should still be safe to eat even if it has freezer burn. However, severely freezer burnt shrimp with thick ice crystals should be discarded.
What is freezer burn?
Freezer burn is a condition that affects foods when they have been stored in the freezer for a long period of time at sub-optimal freezing temperatures. It is caused by moisture in the food evaporating due to the air circulation in the freezer, leaving behind ice crystals on the surface of the food. Food that experiences freezer burn appears dry and faded with dull, grayish-brown leathery spots. The spots feel dry and tough when touched.
Freezer burn only affects the quality and texture of food, not the safety. It usually happens when food has been stored improperly in the freezer. Contributing factors include:
- Food stored uncovered or unwrapped.
- Freezer door left ajar or opened frequently.
- Freezer that experiences temperature fluctuations.
- Food stored in freezer for too long.
The high-moisture content in shrimp makes it especially prone to freezer burn if not stored properly. The thin bodies and large surface area of shrimp mean that moisture can evaporate quickly.
Is freezer burnt shrimp safe to eat?
Yes, provided that the shrimp was safe and fresh when it was initially frozen, shrimp affected by freezer burn is still safe to eat. The freezer burn impacts the taste, texture, and moisture content of the shrimp but does not make it unsafe or contaminated.
Freezer burnt shrimp may taste salty, dry, and stringy. The texture becomes tough and rubbery. But it does not contain any harmful bacteria or make the shrimp poisonous. The reason is that safe freezing temperatures prevent microbial growth. So as long as the shrimp has remained properly frozen, with no thawing and refreezing, it cannot become contaminated.
However, if the freezer burnt shrimp has an off smell, flavor, or very unusual appearance, it is best to discard it. Severely freezer burnt shrimp with thick, large ice crystals should also be thrown out, as the quality degradation is too great.
Here are some signs that freezer burnt shrimp is still safe to eat:
- Shrimp has been kept frozen continuously at 0°F (-17°C) or below.
- No evidence of temperature fluctuations.
- Shrimp was healthy and fresh when first frozen.
- No foul odors or off colors.
- Freezer burn is mild with smaller ice crystals.
Will cooking improve freezer burnt shrimp?
Cooking freezer burnt shrimp can help improve the taste and make it more palatable. The heat will melt any ice crystals and evaporate some of the excess moisture caused by freezer burn.
However, cooking cannot completely eliminate the degraded texture and flavor. The flesh will still have a grainy, stringy mouthfeel. Off-flavors like saltiness and rancidity may be reduced but not fully removed.
Try using freezer burnt shrimp in cooked dishes that include a sauce or marinade. Acidic ingredients like lemon, herbs, and spices can help mask any off-flavors. Avoid eating severely freezer burnt shrimp plain or unadorned.
Here are some recipe ideas for freezer burnt shrimp:
- Shrimp scampi or linguine – include lots of garlic, lemon, parsley
- Shrimp tacos or burritos – with salsa, guacamole, spices
- Shrimp fried rice or stir fry – with soy sauce, vegetables
- Shrimp soup or chowder – use a flavorful broth
- Shrimp cakes or patties – with breadcrumbs, onions, herbs
How to prevent and minimize freezer burn
You can take steps to prevent or reduce the chances of freezer burn on shrimp and other frozen foods:
- Use moisture-proof packaging like heavy duty aluminum foil, freezer paper, vacuum sealed bags, or freezer containers. This creates a barrier against air circulation.
- Wrap food as airtight as possible, pressing out excess air before sealing.
- Avoid overcrowding the freezer so cold air can properly circulate around packages.
- Put new items towards the back of the freezer. Rotate stock using oldest first.
- Keep freezer organized so items are easy to find and access.
- Maintain a consistent freezer temperature of 0°F or below.
- Avoid opening the freezer door unnecessarily.
- Defrost manual defrost freezers regularly to prevent ice buildup.
- Use freezer-safe thermometer to monitor that freezer is at 0°F or below.
- Consume frozen items within recommended storage time of 2-6 months for shrimp.
Following these best practices for freezing and cold temperature storage will help prevent freezer burn. But even with proper handling, freezer burn can still occur over time. Checking your frozen goods regularly and watching expiration dates will help you catch it early before it ruins the texture extensively.
What is the shelf life of freezer burnt shrimp?
Freezer burnt shrimp will have a shorter shelf life and optimal flavor compared to properly frozen shrimp. The freezer burn creates texture changes that worsen over time and lead to greater quality deterioration.
According to the USDA, shrimp that has been continuously frozen at 0°F has a recommended freezer storage life of:
- Raw shrimp: 6 months
- Cooked shrimp: 4 months
Freezer burnt shrimp should not be stored for the full recommended time. For best quality, use freezer burnt shrimp within 4 months.
Watch for the following signs that freezer burnt shrimp is no longer usable:
- Intense freezer burn with thick ice crystals.
- Noticeable drying or browning on the surface.
- Very tough, hard flesh.
- Odd color changes or yellowing.
- Off odors.
The freezer burnt shrimp also should not have exceeded the original recommended freezer storage time if it had not experienced freezer burn. Discard any freezer burnt shrimp stored over 6 months.
Can you refreeze previously frozen shrimp?
Previously frozen raw shrimp that has thawed in the refrigerator can be safely refrozen as long as it was handled properly. Follow these guidelines for refreezing thawed shrimp:
- Only refreeze shrimp that has been kept cold in the refrigerator at 40°F or below and not left at room temperature.
- Refreeze the thawed shrimp within 1-2 days.
- Do not refreeze shrimp that has developed an off smell or appearance.
- Cook thawed shrimp before refreezing if it has been thawed for over 2 days.
- Use refrozen shrimp within 1 month for best quality.
- Avoid refreezing shrimp more than once.
Refreezing shrimp can result in further texture changes and moisture loss. So it is best to use thawed shrimp immediately. But properly handled shrimp can be refrozen safely, though the quality decline may be more noticeable.
Can you eat shrimp that smells fishy or has black spots?
No, shrimp that smells very fishy or has black spots should be discarded. Those are signs that the shrimp has spoiled and may not be safe to eat.
A slight seafood smell to fresh shrimp is normal. But a noticeably fishy, ammonia-like, or sour odor indicates the shrimp has gone bad. Discoloration, sliminess, or mushy texture are other warning signs. When in doubt, throw it out.
Black spots on shrimp can be melanosis, caused by natural enzymes in the shell. It occurs when the shrimp flesh is exposed to oxygen and does not affect safety. However, if the black spots are mold, that means spoilage and the shrimp should be discarded.
Freezer burn on shrimp is unattractive but generally not hazardous. While the taste and texture suffer, frozen shrimp with minor freezer burn can be safely eaten. Check for signs of spoilage, and toss severely damaged shrimp. Use frozen shrimp sooner and employ freezer best practices to prevent freezer burn. With the proper precautions, shrimp can retain optimal quality in the freezer for months without developing freezer burn.