History of Frozen Food

During the 1920's and 1930's Clarence Birdseye invented, developed and commercialised a method of quick-freezing food products in convenient packages without altering the original taste, texture or appearance of the food. Today Clarence Birdseye is a household name and his process has evolved into a multi-billon pound industry.

Clarence Birdseye

Born in Brooklyn in 1886, Birdseye was a biology major at Amhurst College when he quit school to work as a naturalist for the US government. He was posted to Labrador in Canada, where he observed first-hand that the fish, caught by the local Inuit, froze almost immediately after being pulled from the water. More importantly, he found that there was hardlyany difference in taste and texture of the fish once thawed out and cooked months later. From this experience and his background in biology, he concluded that food must be frozen very quickly to prevent ice crystals forming and ruining the cellular structure of the food.

In 1923, Birdseye founded Birdseye Seafood Inc. and then invested $7 in an electric fan, buckets of brine and cakes of ice. Birdseye invented and later perfected a system of packing fresh food into waxed cardboard boxes and flash-freezing them under high pressure. After a year, Birdseye Seafood Inc. ended in bankruptcy and in 1924 Birdseye established the General Seafoods Company.

By 1926, Birdseye had developed a quick-freeze double-belt machine weighing 20 tons which was later converted into a multiple-plate freezer which was much more mobile.

In June 1929, the General Seafoods Company was sold for $22 million and the name was changed to Birds Eye. Clarence Birdseye remained with the company and headed up research and development.

On March 6th 1930, 18 stores in Springfield, Massachusetts tested refrigerated grocery display cases, this was followed by a further two tests in 1934 in New York. In 1944 the Birds Eye company began to lease refrigerated boxcars to transport frozen foods via rail making nationwide frozen food distribution a reality.

Through his work, Clarence Birdseye invented the processes and technologies to create a market for frozen food. As the benefits of frozen food became obvious to consumers, freezers became essential household appliances.