Is shrimp that has freezer burn safe to eat?

What is freezer burn?

Freezer burn refers to the drying out and change in color and texture that can occur when foods are not properly packaged for long-term freezer storage. It happens when air reaches the surface of the food. As the food dehydrates, ice crystals form and can make the texture dry, chewy, or spongy.

Freezer burn does not automatically make food unsafe, but it can diminish flavor and texture quality. It’s caused by air reaching the food’s surface and removing moisture. Food that shows signs of freezer burn can still be eaten, but its quality might be lessened.

What causes freezer burn on shrimp?

Freezer burn on shrimp is caused by a few different factors:

– Improper packaging – Shrimp needs to be in airtight, moisture-proof packaging to prevent freezer burn. If it’s wrapped in regular plastic wrap or foil, air and moisture can still penetrate the packaging and cause freezer burn.

– Exposure to air – Each time the freezer door opens and closes, shrimps gets exposed to new blasts of dry air which can remove moisture from their surface. Poorly sealed packages allow additional air to circulate around the shrimp.

– Freezer temperature fluctuations – Dramatic shifts in freezer temperature, like if a freezer door is accidentally left open, can lead to increased ice crystal formation on shrimp.

– Length of freezer time – The longer shrimp is stored in the freezer, the higher the risk of freezer burn as moisture slowly escapes from the shrimp over time.

How can you tell if frozen shrimp has freezer burn?

Here are some of the signs that indicate frozen shrimp may have freezer burn:

– Dry, shriveled texture – Shrimp will feel dry and shriveled instead of firm and plump if it has lost moisture from freezer burn. The flesh will lack its usual juicy quality.

– Change in color – Freezer burned shrimp may turn lighter in color, becoming faded and dull looking versus the normal translucent pink.

– Discolored patches or spots – White or grayish blotches or spots indicate where ice crystals have formed and extracted moisture.

– Strong odor – As lipids oxidize, freezer burned shrimp gives off a more pungent “fishy” or ammonia-like odor.

– Taste – Freezer burned shrimp will taste dry and grainy versus tender and sweet when properly frozen. The flavor is negatively impacted.

– Frost or ice crystals – A buildup of large ice crystals on shrimp is a sure sign of freezer damage.

Is shrimp with freezer burn safe to eat?

Shrimp that has a mild case of freezer burn is still safe to eat, but the quality and taste will be lessened. When freezer burn is severe, with thick ice crystals and foul odors, it is best to discard the shrimp. Here are some guidelines on when it’s ok to eat freezer burned shrimp:

– Slight surface drying – If the shrimp shows minimal drying on the surface but still feels firm, moist, andLooks normal, it should be safe to eat. Trim any hard, dried sections after thawing.

– Light freezer burn – Light colored patches and minimal odor change indicates low-level freezer burn. The shrimp is likely still safe to eat but the taste and texture will be inferior.

– Heavy freezer burn – Thick ice crystals, dried out flesh, foul odor, and extreme discolorationsignals the shrimp is extensively freezer damaged and should be discarded.

– Presence of off-odors – A sour, very fishy or ammonia-like odor likely means spoilage bacteria have begun multiplying. Heavily freezer burned shrimp should not be eaten.

– When in doubt, throw it out – If you are uncertain how far freezer burn has degraded the shrimp, it is safest to just discard it. The relatively low cost of shrimp makes it easy to replace.

Can you reverse freezer burn on shrimp?

Unfortunately, once freezer burn has occurred, it cannot be reversed. The dehydration is permanent. However, you can minimize the damage by taking these steps:

– Trim away badly dried sections – Use a knife to cut away hard, dried out parts before cooking. This improves the remaining texture.

– Brine before cooking – Soak the shrimp for 30 minutes in a saltwater brine (1 Tbsp salt per cup of water). This re-hydrates and seasons it.

– Use a marinade – Marinating the thawed shrimp for 30+ minutes masks off-flavors and makes the flesh juicier.

– Bread or batter coat – Breading or battering the shrimp helps seal in moisture and provides more flavor and texture.

– Only freeze properly packaged – To avoid future freezer burn, seal shrimp in airtight packaging with as little air inside as possible.

– Reduce freezer time – Don’t keep shrimp frozen for longer than 2-3 months max to limit moisture loss.

How can you prevent freezer burn on shrimp?

It’s easy to prevent freezer burn on shrimp if you take a few simple precautions:

– Use moisture-proof packaging – Plastic freezer bags, airtight containers, or heavy freezer paper work best. Make sure to remove as much air as possible.

– Portion into smaller packs – One large block freezes slower than individal pieces, so separate shrimp into meal-size portions before freezing.

– Freeze rapidly – Freeze shrimp as quickly as possible. The faster it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals that form.

– Maintain consistent temperature – Avoid freezer temperature fluctuations. Keep freezer set to 0°F or below.

– Limit air exposure – When removing shrimp for use, reseal packages quickly so remaining pieces don’t get exposed to excess air.

– Freeze for shorter time – For best quality, use frozen shrimp within 2 months. The longer it’s frozen, the higher the risk of freezer burn.

How can you use freezer burned shrimp?

While heavy freezer burn makes shrimp unsafe, mild cases can still be used. Here are tips for salvaging slightly freezer damaged shrimp:

Soups & Stews

The moisture in soups and stews will rehydrate mildy freezer burned shrimp. Long cooking will also help mask any off-flavors. Use in chowders, bisques, gumbos, etc.

Casseroles & Bakes

Mix shrimp with flavorful sauces and ingredients like cheese, rice, and seasonings when making casseroles. Baking helps redistribute moisture.

Skewers & Grilled

A short brining followed by grilling or broiling can impart new moisture and flavor. Pair with strongly flavored sauces and rubs.

Fried Dishes

Breading and frying freezer burned shrimp seals in moisture and provides crisp texture. Use in shrimp tacos, tempura, popcorn shrimp, etc.

Pasta Dishes

Pasta sauces cling nicely to shrimp and make it more appetizing. Boiling pastas helps rehydrate the flesh.


Toss pre-thawed shrimp into pasta salads, shrimp cocktail, or seafood salads. The other ingredients will balance any off-notes.

Can you refreeze previously frozen shrimp that has been thawed?

It is not recommended to refreeze shrimp after it has been completely thawed. The multiple freeze-thaw cycles degrade quality and create risk for bacterial growth. However, if thawed shrimp is still partially icy and cold, it can safely be refrozen. Here are some guidelines:

– Never refreeze shrimp thawed at room temperature – Refreezing shrimp left out too long is unsafe. Bacteria multiply rapidly at 40°F or above.

– Refreezing thawed shrimp kept chilled is ok – If thawed shrimp remains refrigerated at all times (never above 40°F), it may be refrozen, though quality loss will occur.

– Refreeze thawed shrimp immediately – For best results, refreeze thawed shrimp as soon as possible before bacteria can start growing.

– Cook thawed shrimp immediately – Cooking shrimp destroys bacteria, so thawed shrimp is safest if cooked right away rather than refrozen.

– Use within 1-2 days if refrigerated – Enjoy thawed shrimp within a day or two for peak quality and safety. Do not store over 2 days before using.

– Discard if slime, stickiness, or odors develop – Signs of bacteria or spoilage mean thawed shrimp should be tossed out. When in doubt, throw it out.

Can you eat cooked shrimp that has been previously frozen if it smells bad?

No, it is not recommended to eat cooked shrimp that smells bad, even if it has been previously frozen. An off-odor in cooked shrimp signifies spoilage and the potential presence of dangerous bacteria.

Here are some reasons not to eat cooked shrimp with an unpleasant smell:

– Bad odors indicate bacterial growth – Foul odors are caused by microorganisms breaking down proteins. This means bacteria has multiplied to potentially unsafe levels.

– Toxins may be present – Decomposing bacteria can produce toxins that cause food poisoning. These toxins can remain even if bacteria are killed by cooking.

– Flavor and texture are impacted – Shrimp flesh starts deteriorating as bacteria grows. An off-smell usually means the texture and taste will also be unappealing.

– Risk of foodborne illness – Eating spoiled cooked shrimp puts you at risk for gastrointestinal distress or more severe illness caused by bacteria or their toxins.

– Odors don’t disappear with cooking – Off-odors cannot be eliminated by cooking, so the unpleasant smell will linger regardless.

– When in doubt, throw it out! – With seafood, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Cooked shrimp with an off smell or appearance should be discarded.


Shrimp that has a slight case of freezer burn is likely still safe to eat, but the quality and taste will start to suffer. Severely freezer burned shrimp with major changes in texture, color, and smell should be discarded. To prevent freezer burn, package shrimp properly in airtight wrapping, limit freezer time to 2-3 months, and avoid temperature fluctuations. While not ideal, mildly freezer damaged shrimp can be salvaged for use in soups, stews, fried dishes, pasta recipes, and other strongly flavored foods. But cooked shrimp should never be consumed if an off-odor is present, as this indicates spoilage and risk of foodborne illness. When unsure if previously frozen shrimp is still good, it is best to play it safe and throw it out.

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