Food & Drink

History of frozen food

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Frozen Food aisle
Frozen veggies are mealtime essentials
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The history of frozen food is actually centuries old

Since the beginning of time, man has always used the resources provided to him by nature for survival. In freezing climates, ancient man froze meats, and in tropical climates, ancient man dried foods. 

A vast array of people from different cultures have long been treating their local food with the same methods of food preservation. In the earliest of times, the people of any geographic area that had freezing temperatures during any part of the year made use of freezing as their method of food preservation. 

To prolong storage time of their food supply, holes dug into the ground were lined with wood and straw and packed with ice. Caves and cellars with below freezing temperatures were used as giant primitive freezers. 

Today, our kitchens are filled with so many gadgets meant to supplement our culinary skills that it is easy to take something as simple as the fridge for granted. It wasn't always so easy! As time progressed into modernity, freezing remained a primary method of food preservation. Some estates were even built with an ice house, a small building separate from the living space, to store food on ice. In 1805, the American inventor, Oliver Evans, invented mechanical refrigeration.

While working on a field assignment in Canada, Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956), assistant naturalist for the United States Agricultural department, became interested in food preservation by freezing. Birdseye learned how to ice fish under very thick ice, and he noticed that the fish he caught froze almost instantly. His simple observation helped Birdseye pioneer the frozen food industry based on what he learned. 

Clarence Birdseye discovered that freshly caught fish froze fairly quickly at Arctic temperatures, and when then thawed out and eaten later, the fish tasted fresh. Birdseye perfected the quick freeze method of food preservation. 

In 1930, he introduced the company Birds Eye in Springfield, Massachusetts. As the first frozen food retailer, Birds Eye offered 26 different frozen products including vegetables, fruits, fish, and meats. 

Four years later, Birds Eye leased to retailers an affordable freezer display case. This display case was used to help people who could not afford the appliance during the depression. 

Almost a decade later, the tinplate shortage caused a greater demand for frozen food by the military during World War II and working women who wanted foods that were easy and fast to prepare. Shortly after, in 1944, frozen foods became nationally distributed because the first insulated railroad cars were leased. 

In the mid 1940s, the first frozen food advertisements appeared on television. The television advertisements caused consumer interest in frozen foods. Because of the interest and demand in frozen foods, a variety of frozen foods were introduced. The new frozen foods included fish sticks, onion rings, waffles, and baked stuffed potatoes. After the launch of these new frozen foods, sales skyrocketed to $1 billion!

When television became increasingly popular in American homes in 1953, the TV dinner was born. Fast forward to 1969: After Apollo astronauts return from the first moonwalk, the astronauts eat prepared frozen entrees and sides. Frozen foods were as popular as ever during that time. 

The next year, the widespread of microwave ovens made frozen food a household staple. Frozen foods were able to be prepared in record time! Food went from the freezer, to the microwave oven, and straight onto the dinner table! It was as easy as that! 

The 1990s caused a greater demand for frozen foods because of the increasing popularity of an “on the go” lifestyle. Eight years later, Chicken Voila! Introduced the first all-in-one complete meal in a bag. 

By 1999, the frozen food total retail sales in the United States was around $25 billion, and it wasn’t done growing. Simply Grillin’ started the first line of perfect seasoned vegetables in 2001. The vegetables come out of the freezer completely prepared, and upon defrosting, are ready to serve.

What started as a method of food preservation has expanded into an entire industry focused on making meal time quick and easy. Frozen food has been around forever, and it doesn’t look like it’s going out of style anytime soon.

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