Frozen Foods

The pioneer of frozen foods was Clarence Birdseye, who based his freezing process on the natural freezing of meat and fish that he had observed in the Arctic zone. He noted that naturally frozen meat and fish seemed fresh when cooked and eaten months later. After returning to the United States, he formed Birdseye Seafoods in 1922 and initially concentrated on chilling fish fillets at a plant in New York. By 1924, he had developed a method of “flash-freezing” by placing cartons of food between metal plates under pressure. He formed the General Seafood Corporation to exploit the flash-freezing technique. In 1929, he sold his company to the Postum Company for $22 million, on the condition that his surname was used as two words, hence the Birds Eye brand name. The expanded company was renamed as the General Foods Corporation. In 1929, cartons of Birds Eye frozen vegetables went on sale in the United States. They were intended to be eaten on the day of purchase, as refrigerators, which were found in only a minority of homes, were only suitable for short-term storage of frozen foods. In 1930, twenty-six varieties of Birds Eye Frosted Foods were test-marketed in Springfield, Massachusetts. The line that was introduced across the United States in 1931 consisted of fish, meat, peas, spinach, loganberries, raspberries, and cherries.

By 1933, 516 stores were stocking Birds Eye Frosted Foods. In 1939, Birds Eye introduced precooked frozen dishes based on chicken, beef, and turkey. As consumption of frozen foods began to increase rapidly in the 1940s, the first specialist self-service frozen-food centers appeared, initially in the New York area in 1945. In Britain, frozen foods became available for the first time in 1946, after a Birds Eye plant was set up in Great Yarmouth. The U.S. company Sara Lee Kitchens produced the first frozen baked foods for the mass market in 1953. A year later, the complete frozen meal appeared when C. A. Swanson & Sons of Omaha, Nebraska, launched TV dinners. In 1957, a new method of cooking frozen foods emerged when the U.S. company Seabrook Farms launched Miracle Pack Prepared Foods, the first boil-in-the-bag frozen foods. The first frozen food to make a major impact in Britain was Birds Eye Fish Fingers, introduced in 1955. These cod sticks coated in breadcrumbs became a favorite children’s food.

In the energy-conscious 1980s, a new competitor to frozen foods appeared—chilled foods. The chilling process involves keeping cooked foods at constant temperatures of 0° to 4°C (32°F–40°F), the recommended temperature range for refrigerators. Although chilled foods have a shorter storage life than frozen foods, they are also quicker to cook and therefore save energy.

Frozen foods have had a profound effect on both the food industry and consumer behavior. For growers of food crops, selling produce to frozen-food companies meant reducing wastage and loss of income through natural decomposition. Some farmers may therefore prefer to sell their whole crop to the frozen food industry. One consequence of this has been that some types of fruit and vegetables are less widely available as fresh produce. The convenience of stocking up on food less frequently is another factor that has reduced the role of fresh food in the diet. An advantage of frozen foods for consumers, however, is that foods are available out of season, thus providing a more varied diet all year round. Calorie-counted, nutritionally balanced frozen or chilled meals may be a boon to the busy consumer, but traditional cooking skills have suffered as a result. Today, for many people, traditional cooking has become a hobby rather than a necessity.