Question: I am storing some steak in the freezer. The packaging was in perfect shape when I stored it, but I've just noticed that it's since become torn. Is the steak still okay to eat?
Answer: From a safety perspective, the steak should be fine. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture points out, foods kept constantly frozen at 0°F or lower will keep safe indefinitely. That’s the case even if the packaging becomes torn while in the freezer, adds the USDA.
But on the quality front, your steak has likely suffered some damage.
Ripped packaging exposes meat’s surface to the air and allows so-called “freezer burn” to develop more quickly than it otherwise would. Freezer burn doesn’t make food unsafe, but it harms the texture and taste — sometimes to the point where the food is simply too unpleasant to eat.
Your best bet is to examine the steak — the presence of dry spots or discoloration means that freezer burn has begun to set in, so you should plan to cook the steak as soon as is practical. (Cut away the freezer-burned portions first.) In the meantime, be sure to replace the torn packaging with fresh wrapping.
To avoid future mishaps — especially for foods you’re planning to keep frozen for at least a month — you should overwrap the original store packaging with airtight heavy-duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil or freezer paper, or place the package inside a heavy-duty freezer bag.