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What Are Those White Spots on Frozen Chicken?

Just as you were thinking of thawing chicken breasts for a chicken caesar salad or chicken parmigiana, you opened your freezer and noticed dried white spots on the frozen chicken that you stored in it.

What are these weird spots, anyway? And is your chicken still safe to eat?

Dried white spots can appear on frozen chicken because of freezer burn. Freezer burn happens because of moisture loss when you keep chicken in the freezer for a long time or don’t wrap it properly in plastic wrap or freezer paper.

Here’s how Wikipedians put it: “Freezer burn is a condition that occurs when frozen food has been damaged by dehydration and oxidation due to air reaching the food. It is generally caused by food not being securely wrapped in air-tight packaging.”

Will Freezer Burn Make You Sick?

If you see freezer burn on a whole chicken or cuts of chicken, is it still safe to eat?

According to the USDA, freezer-burnt chicken is safe to eat. Eating freezer-burnt meat, poultry, or seafood does not put you at risk for food-borne illness or issues.

“Freezer burn does not make food unsafe, merely dry in spots,” the USDA says on its website. “It appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air coming in contact with the surface of the food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the food.”

The parts of your chicken that have suffered from freezer burn will come out dry and tasteless, no matter how well—or how long—you cook them.

If you’re thawing frozen chicken and see signs of freezer burn, cut out the freezer-burnt areas, throwing them away in the bin, and cook whatever’s left. Otherwise, those areas will come out dry and tasteless.

Why Freezer Burn Happens

All food contains water. When you put food in your freezer, the water contained in it turns into thousands of small ice crystals. 

Over time and because of a chemical process called sublimation, these ice crystals move from the inside of your food to its surface, clustering in the coldest areas. Sublimation is when a substance changes its state from solid to gas—without passing through a liquid form.

Think of sublimation like evaporation, but without the liquid part. As the ice crystals in your food move from the warmer to the coldest areas, the warmer areas dehydrate, turning dry and tough. Essentially, freezer burn means that some areas of your food have lost moisture in the freezer.

Freezer burn can happen on red meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruits. 

You can easily recognize freezer burn by the white, tough, and dry spots on food products you’ve kept in the freezer.

There isn’t a way to fix or reverse freezer burn. However, you can minimize the risk of freezer burn by keeping food for less time in your freezer and wrapping it tighter in saran wrap or freezer paper.

The less time food stays in your freezer, the lower the chance of it catching freezer burn. Tighter packaging also helps minimize freezer burn because it keeps the entire surface of your food protected from exposure to cold air.

One trick that helps me achieve this is labeling the dates when I put meat, poultry, and seafood in my freezer (using sticky labels and a marker pen). If you have tricks of yours, feel free to share them with the rest of this post’s readers and me by leaving a comment below.

The Bottom Line

The white spots on chicken in your fridge are caused by freezer burn.

Freezer burn happens when you keep food in the freezer for too long or haven’t wrapped it tight enough in saran wrap or freezer paper.

Because of sublimation, the chicken’s moisture escapes from its warmest parts and migrates to the coldest—leaving the warmest parts dry and tough.

You can’t fix freezer burn, but you can prevent it by not keeping food products in the freezer for too long and wrapping them well before storing them there in the first place.

The best thing to do with the parts of your chicken that have suffered freezer burn is to cut them out and throw them away. You can try to cook them as much as you can; they’ll always come out dry, tough, and tasteless.

Know your author

Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.