Puffy packaging around frozen chicken
So I purchased a lovely chicken from Trader Joe's and popped it in the freezer.
I took it out last night and noticed the packaging is a bit....puffy. Like the it's filled with air. Of course it's now freezer burned, but I'm still interested in cooking it because I hate to waste food.
Could this indicate any sort of spoilage or could it become spoiled as it thaws?
What a bummer.
I guess you know that you should never put store-wrapped meat directly into the refrigerator. It should be repackaged in something airtight; most of the thin plastic of which supermarket packaging is made is gas-permeable. I know how TJ's wraps their meats, which is a little better than typical supermarket wrapping. What you are seeing may just be a reflection of the plastic container shrinking in the freezer, so the air contained is being squeezed. Thaw the package UNOPENED, in the fridge. The puffing may subside. If it's only been frozen a week or less, there might not be freezer burn. If you see white discoloration, that's burned. Cut it away. If the chicken has that "old refrigerator" smell, especially after you trim off the suspect spots, rinse, and pat dry, there IS freezer burn and the chicken won't taste good no matter what. It's not going to harm you as long as it didn't sit at room temperature for hours, either before or after freezing. Boil it up for the nearest dogs/cats.
If after thawing/trimming/washing you think it smells okay, I'd suggest poaching it in enough water to cover, with a cut up onion, carrot, stalk of celery, bay leaf, peppercorns. Garlic and salt optional. Bring to a gentle boil, cover, turn off heat, and come back in an hour. Pull the cooked meat from the bones, taste the stock. If it's bad, stop and give up. If it's okay, or okay but weak, return the skin and bones to the pot, bring back to a simmer, and cook until you have a strongly-flavored stock to make soup or stew with. Add some of the cooked meat back into the pot when the dish is about done, just to reheat it. Or reduce it down in volume to conserve freezer space, and when cool freeze it for future use.
If you just bought that chicken and put it into the freezer overnight, it should not be freezer burned. The puffiness you found was due to the chicken expanding slightly while frozen then the water in the ice expanding. As far as cooking it, I would cook it in whatever way you originally had planned for the bird.
Signs of the chicken being freezer burned include dehydration of the skin and flesh which look like dry patches and discoloration. Keep in mind that a freezer burned chicken is still safe to eat but the taste will be affected.
I've actually noticed this with certain brands of chicken as well. I think there is air in the packaging or something but I think it's fine.
Bacteria have to be active to expel gas, I think.
Freezing may not kill the bacteria but I think it renders them dormant so they should not be able to puff up a container.
I'm not a microbiologist. Just stayed at a holiday inn express....