Is it safe to eat shrimp that have freezer burn?

Freezer burn on shrimp is a common occurrence for those who store seafood in the freezer for extended periods. While the sight of ice crystals or white/gray patches on shrimp may be unappetizing, rest assured that freezer burn does not make shrimp unsafe to eat. Here’s what you need to know about the safety and quality of freezer burned shrimp.

What Causes Freezer Burn on Shrimp?

Freezer burn refers to the damage that occurs when food is exposed to air in the freezer. When water molecules in the shrimp escape into the air of the freezer, ice crystals form on the surface of the meat. These ice crystals appear as white or grayish spots.

As more water evaporates, oxidation also occurs, causing the shrimps tissues to become rancid or dry. This oxidation results in the off colors and textures associated with freezer burn.

Several factors can contribute to freezer burn on stored shrimp:

  • Length of freezer storage – the longer shrimp is stored, the higher the risk
  • Temperature fluctuations – inconsistent temps speeds up freezer burn
  • Improper packaging – air exposure causes oxidation and evaporation
  • Repeated opening of the freezer – allows warm air in

While unsightly, freezer burn itself does not make shrimp hazardous to eat. The ice crystals, dry spots, and color changes are indications of quality loss, not safety issues.

Is it Safe to Eat Freezer Burned Shrimp?

Yes, it is safe to eat shrimp affected by freezer burn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirms that quality issues, like freezer burn, do not indicate a food safety risk.

Freezer burn only impacts taste, texture, and appearance – not food safety. Shrimp flesh degrades slowly and the microbes that cause foodborne illness do not grow below 0°F (-17°C). So while freezer burned shrimp may be drier in spots, it is not a contamination issue.

As long as the shrimp was continuously frozen and only removed from the freezer to thaw and cook, they are safe for consumption, even with moderate freezer burn present.

Signs Shrimp is Spoiled, Not Just Freezer Burned

In some cases, smelly or mushy shrimp may indicate true spoilage, not just freezer burn damage. Here are signs to watch out for:

  • Strong, fishy odor – Freshly thawed shrimp should have a mild, briny scent. Foul odors indicate spoilage.
  • Slimy texture – A slippery, mushy feel points to bacteria growth.
  • Discoloration – Unnatural colors like green, yellow or blue hues signal spoilage.
  • Mold – Fuzzy mold spots mean shrimp went bad.

If you notice these warning signs, it is best to discard the shrimp. The texture and smell changes point to decomposition, not simply freezer damage.

Does Freezer Burn Change the Taste?

Yes, freezer burned spots on shrimp will taste drier and more chewy when cooked. The freeze-dried texture takes away from the normally tender, juicy bite. The oxidation can also create “off” flavors.

The taste change depends on the severity of the freezer burn:

  • Mild – Light spotting may just be a bit drier in places. Flavor difference is minimal.
  • Moderate– Larger patches and ice crystals make the texture chewier. Oxidation creates slight rancidity.
  • Severe – Widespread burn makes shrimp leathery and dry throughout. Stale, unpleasant flavors are more noticeable.

Proper preparation techniques can improve the taste. Trimming off any hard, dehydrated sections helps reduce chewiness. Brining also rehydrates the shrimp meat before cooking. Use marinades, spices and sauces to mask any oxidation flavors.

Should You Cook and Eat Freezer Burned Shrimp?

While it is safe to eat freezer burned shrimp, the taste and texture changes may make them unappealing. It comes down to personal preference whether you want to cook and consume shrimp after freezer damage.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding what to do with freezer burned shrimp:

  • Severity – Mild cases can be trimmed/seasoned. Severe freezer burn may not be worth eating.
  • Planned use – Strongly flavored dishes can disguise off tastes.
  • Alternate options – Is replacing the shrimp an option?
  • Food waste – Some people feel better consuming the damaged shrimp.
  • Expiration date – How long until the shrimp expires if not eaten now?

There are ways to improve the quality if you opt to eat the freezer burned shrimp:

  • Cut away any hard, dry sections
  • Soak in saltwater brine before cooking
  • Use bold marinades and spice rubs
  • Cook in sauces, soups or stews
  • Grind into shrimp cakes or patties

Proper freezing practices can prevent freezer burn on shrimp in the first place. Store shrimp in moisture-proof packaging or containers. Handle quickly during the thawing process. And avoid temperature fluctuations during storage.

How to Prevent Freezer Burn on Shrimp

Taking steps to prevent freezer burn will help maintain the quality and taste of frozen shrimp:

Use Proper Packaging

Exposure to air causes freezer burn. Make sure shrimp are in an airtight, moisture-proof barrier before freezing:

  • Heavy duty plastic freezer bags
  • Vacuum sealed pouches
  • Plastic containers with tight lids
  • Aluminum foil tightly wrapped
  • Butcher paper wrapped snugly

Remove as much air as possible and seal the packaging completely. Label packages with contents and freeze date.

Portion Properly

Freezing shrimp in smaller portions reduces air exposure when opening the freezer. Individual bags let you thaw only what you need at a time. Recommended portion sizes:

  • 1 pound bags
  • Sandwich bags with 6-8 shrimp
  • Meal-sized bags with 1⁄2 cup shrimp pieces

Freeze Quickly

To retain moisture and texture, freeze shrimp as fast as possible. Spread packs out on freezer shelves or racks until solidly frozen, then stack. Keep freezer set at 0°F or below.

Prevent Temperature Changes

Temperature fluctuations cause moisture to move in and out of the shrimp. Keep freezer closed and avoid opening it unnecessarily. Store shrimp towards back of freezer.

Limit Storage Time

The longer shrimp stays frozen, the more freezer damage occurs. Use frozen shrimp within these time limits:

  • Raw shrimp – 9 months
  • Cooked shrimp – 3 months
  • Shrimp pieces – 6 months

Date packages and use oldest first when cooking. Discard if any odor or spoilage once thawed.

Defrost Properly

Air exposure during thawing also causes quality loss. Defrost frozen shrimp by:

  • Placing sealed pack in refrigerator overnight
  • Submerging sealed pack in cold water, changing water every 30 mins
  • Microwaving on defrost setting based on weight

Cook immediately after thawing. Do not refreeze thawed shrimp or return to freezer.

Tips for Cooking Freezer Burned Shrimp

To make the most of freezer burned shrimp, use preparation methods that add moisture and mask any off flavors:

Hydrate in a Brine

Soaking shrimp in a saltwater brine plumps up the dehydrated spots. Dissolve 2 Tbsp salt per quart of water. Submerge shrimp for 30 mins-1 hour before cooking.

Season Aggressively

Spice rubs, herbs, marinades and sauces help cover any oxidation flavors. Cajun, jerk and lemon pepper seasonings pair well with shrimp. Marinate in italian dressing, wine or barbecue sauce.

Cook in Moisture-Rich Dishes

Chilis, risottos, sauces and chowders add hydration and lots of flavor. The shrimp cooks in the surrounding liquid.

Chop into Pieces

Cutting shrimp into smaller bits removes the worst sections of freezer burn. Use diced shrimp for fillings, toppings or mixed dishes.

Grind into a Paste

Grind severely freezer burned shrimp in a food processor to make a smooth paste for dips, spreads and patties. The texture becomes uniform.

Can Refrozen Shrimp be Safely Eaten?

It is best to avoid refreezing shrimp whenever possible. The multiple freeze-thaw cycles lead to more cell damage and moisture loss. The texture rapidly deteriorates with each refreeze.

However, according to USDA food safety guidelines, it is safe eat shrimp that has been refrozen, as long as it remains stored continuously at 0°F or below. Refreezing does not create microbial hazards. Keep these tips in mind for refrozen shrimp:

  • Thaw using refrigeration to minimize cell damage
  • Cook refrozen shrimp immediately after thawing
  • Expect worse texture/taste than before freezing
  • Refreeze thawed shrimp just once – discard after second thaw
  • Watch carefully for signs of spoilage once thawed

Refreezing is not recommended for cooked shrimp or shrimp that has already undergone multiple rounds of freezing. It is best to cook and eat refrozen shrimp immediately after thawing for food safety and quality.

Key Takeaways on Freezer Burned Shrimp

  • Freezer burn on shrimp appears as white/gray patches, dry spots and ice crystals. It indicates quality loss, not safety issues.
  • Shrimp affected by freezer burn are still safe to eat when properly stored, thawed and cooked.
  • Severe freezer burn alters the taste and texture, making shrimp chewy and dry.
  • Prevent freezer burn by sealing shrimp in moisture-proof packaging, freezing quickly, and avoiding temp fluctuations.
  • Cook damaged shrimp in flavorful sauces and dishes to mask off tastes and textures.
  • Refreezing shrimp further diminishes quality but does not create microbial hazards if continuously frozen.

Being an informed seafood consumer is key – understand signs of true spoilage vs normal freezer damage on shrimp. While the quality may be lower, rest assured that moderate freezer burn does not make properly handled shrimp unsafe to eat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my shrimp get freezer burnt?

Freezer burn occurs when stored shrimp is exposed to air, causing moisture loss and oxidation. Causes include improper packaging, fluctuating freezer temps, opening freezer frequently, and excessive storage time.

Can you fix freezer burnt shrimp?

You can help improve the taste and texture of freezer burnt shrimp by:

  • – Trimming off any hard, dried sections
  • – Soaking in a brine before cooking to rehydrate
  • – Using bold seasonings and marinades
  • – Cooking in stews, sauces and chilis

However, severely damaged shrimp may be difficult to fully restore.

What happens if you eat bad shrimp?

Eating shrimp that has truly spoiled, not just freezer burnt, can cause food poisoning. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. Seek medical care if food poisoning symptoms arise after eating shrimp.

Can you eat 2 year old frozen shrimp?

Shrimp that has been continuously frozen for 2 years should still be safe to eat, though the quality will not be as high. Cook frozen shrimp within these time limits for best flavor:

  • – Raw shrimp: 9 months
  • – Cooked shrimp: 3 months
  • – Shrimp pieces: 6 months

Discard 2 year old frozen shrimp if it has an off smell or appearance once thawed.

Why did my thawed shrimp turn yellow?

A yellow or orange tint in thawed shrimp indicates oxidation of the fats and proteins. This can happen after prolonged freezing. The color change does not make the shrimp unsafe, but it may have an unpleasant flavor.


Freezer burn may downgrade the eating experience, but it does not pose safety concerns if shrimp is handled properly. Take steps to prevent freezer damage through proper freezing methods. If you do end up with freezer burned shrimp, use extra seasonings and flavorful sauces to make them more palatable. While the texture change is unavoidable, you can still safely enjoy the shrimp in soups, spreads, patties, or other creative dishes.

Leave a Comment