When you open a package of frozen vegetables, do you ever wonder who made it possible for us to freeze foods in a way that retains their nutrients, color and taste? We can thank National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Clarence Birdseye, who is credited with inventing the frozen foods we know today.
Read on to learn how Birdseye helped improve the nation's diet, and created a new industry based on his innovative food preservation processes providing high-quality foods without drying, pickling or canning.
An Inspiring Expedition
Born in 1886 in Brooklyn, New York, Birdseye studied at Amherst College before working as a naturalist for several biological departments within the U.S. government.
During an expedition to Labrador, Canada, a young Birdseye observed Inuit fishermen freezing their catch by throwing it onto surface ice. The fish were frozen quickly in the frigid air, and Birdseye recognized that the speed of freezing prevented any frost damage.
He later observed that while slowly freezing food would create large ice crystals and damage the food’s cell structure, rapidly freezing food would preserve its cell structure and allow it to retain close to its original flavor and texture.
A Legacy of Innovation
Birdseye understood that providing the public with tasty, nutrient-rich frozen foods would be a very successful business venture. At this time, foods were frozen slowly, and that meant that once they were thawed, they lacked the appealing taste and texture of fresh foods.
Upon his return to New York, in 1924 Birdseye developed and patented a method for packing food into a waterproof, waxed cardboard container and then flash-freezing it. This same year, he launched General Seafoods to begin selling frozen fish. Continuing to innovate, Birdseye introduced a quick freeze double-plate machine in 1926, which is foundational to modern freezing technology.
In 1930, the first retail frozen products were introduced to consumers in Springfield, Massachusetts. To help sales efforts, Birdseye created and leased special display cases that showcased the products.
Frozen foods gained in popularity in the 1940s and ‘50s, as they made it possible to quickly prepare meals that were often more nutritious than those using canned foods.
Over the course of his lifetime, Birdseye earned nearly 300 patents. Today, Birds Eye Foods continues Birdseye's legacy of innovation in frozen food.
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