Quality and Stability of Frozen Foods
The frozen food industry was born in 1930, when Clarence Birdseye found a way to flash-freeze foods.
Frozen foods have become a staple of the modern diet. Freezing allows consumers to have access to foods previously unavailable or available only seasonally, and it provides convenience for many families where time is an issue.
If food is simply frozen without removing the solid water crystals, then storage, quality, and lifetime become an entirely different set of problems. Early polar explorers frequently found their food supplies in a frozen state, and they encountered many problems in being able to ingest and digest these foods, which often had reduced nutritional value. Yet the Eskimos had survived for centuries in a hostile environment, living off fresh food from the ocean or the land and preserving this food by drying or freezing and storing it for times of need.
An astute naturalist employed by the United States government was the first to take particular notice of how the Eskimos prepared their frozen fish. On duty in the Arctic Clarence Birdseye watched in fascination as the Arctic ice and the bitter Arctic wind froze the fresh fish almost instantly. More importantly, Birdseye found that when these frozen fish were later thawed, cooked, and eaten, their taste was remarkably similar to the original fresh food. Recognizing that this “flash” or practically instantaneous freezing had commercial potential, Birdseye left his government job and formed Birdseye Seafoods, Inc. in 1924. In 1930 he was awarded a United States patent for a “Method of Preparing Food Products” (#1,773,079), a system that packed fish, meat, and vegetables in waxed cartons that were then flash-froze.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to learn more about frozen foods.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program