07.10.

1956: The Man to whom we Owe Frozen Food

1956: The Man to whom we Owe Frozen Food
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 7 October 1956
  • Birdseye spent the 1912 – 1915 period in Labrador, where he lived with the Eskimos. Specifically, the Inuit people taught him how to fish under the thick ice. Birdseye noticed that the caught fish freezes almost instantly at the local temperature of -40°C.

The famed Clarence Birdseye, inventor of the technique which allows us to fast-freeze food, died on this day. This technique allows us to produce quality frozen food, which doesn’t lose much of its nutritional value in the freezer.

Clarence Birdseye was born in New York in 1886. As a young man, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From there he was sent to various field trips in various parts of North America. One of his most fateful trips was the one in Labrador, a part of Canada with very low temperatures.

Namely, Labrador is very cold not only due to its northern location, but also because the cold sea current which flows from the Arctic and down its coasts. That current can even take icebergs from the Arctic far to the south. One such iceberg caused the sinking of the famous Titanic.

Birdseye spent the 1912 – 1915 period in Labrador, where he lived with the Eskimos. Specifically, the Inuit people taught him how to fish under the thick ice. Birdseye noticed that the caught fish freezes almost instantly at the local temperature of -40°C. When thus preserved, such fish was significantly tastier than the frozen fish he used to eat in New York. Birdseye therefore concluded that the secret must lie in the speed of the freezing process.

He was correct: when food is frozen quickly, there is no time for large crystals to form, and thus its cell structure remains intact. Fast-frozen food is almost equally tasty as fresh food, while slowly frozen food loses much of its flavor.

After returning to the USA, Birdseye started to develop fast freezing techniques. At first he experimented with chilled air flows at -43°C, but later developed an even better method, where fish were packed in cartons, and then the contents frozen between two refrigerated surfaces under pressure.

During the 1920s, Birdseye’s fast frozen food became available to the broader public and became quite popular over time.

In 1929 he sold his patent to the well-known Goldman Sachs, who kept Birdseye’s name on his brand of frozen food. Birds Eye has remained one of the leading brands in the frozen food industry to this day.

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