The Future of Flash Freezing Food

By: Tony Wang

Image Credit: Flickr @ Mark Doliner

Try to imagine a world where frozen food doesn’t exist: no frozen pizza, no frozen fruits, and no frozen vegetables. Pretty scary, isn’t it? However, while this may seem like a terrifying nightmare to the modern individual, it was actually a part of the normal way of life less than one hundred years ago. Back then, the technology we currently use to freeze foods didn’t even exist! However, everything changed when a man named Clarence Birdseye discovered a new way of preserving food. We now know this technique as “flash freezing.”

Flash freezing is a technique used to quickly freeze foods at extremely low temperatures without compromising its freshness or flavor. This is typically done by lowering the temperature of the food product to less than -40 ℃; however, some methods use liquid nitrogen to freeze the food product. These methods are both great alternatives to regular freezing techniques because when a food product is frozen normally, massive ice crystals form within its cells. As a result of this, once the food is thawed, these ice crystals melt and rupture the food’s cell membranes, causing the cells' fluids and nutrients to flow out. This loss of fluids and nutrients is what gives regular frozen food products their bland and disgusting flavor. To prevent this, companies now use flash freezing. The main reason that products that are flash frozen don’t have this issue is that flash freezing can freeze a food product in less than a few seconds. Since there is less time for the water molecules to freeze inside of the cell, there is also less time for large ice crystals to form. As a result, the cell membranes are much less likely to rupture once the food thaws. This allows the food product to keep its flavor and freshness, despite being frozen.

Let’s now talk about the man responsible for the creation of flash freezing, Clarence Birdseye. In 1912, Birdseye went on an expedition to Canada; however, after arriving, he soon realized that he did not pack nearly enough food to survive. He would have to fish if he wanted to sustain himself. Luckily, Birdseye was a hunter, so fishing wasn’t that hard for him. However, he still had no clue as to how he could preserve the fresh fish that he caught. Fortunately for him, the local Inuit told Birdseye that he could preserve the fishes he caught by sticking them under thick sheets of ice. When Birdseye did this, he noticed that when the fish was submerged, it froze almost instantaneously. He found this intriguing. What he found even more intriguing was that the fish still tasted fresh after he had thawed in, despite it being frozen for days on end. This gave Birdseye an idea. He wanted to apply this newfound knowledge to start a business, and that’s just what he did. It took several years of experimentation, but he finally found success in 1924, when he and his company managed to discover a process that would allow them to flash freeze food on a massive scale in a factory. From then onward, he and his company were able to ship their food products around the world without compromising freshness or flavor. This resulted in the frozen food industry’s popularity skyrocketing. Because of this, Birdseye is often credited as the man who single-handedly created the modern frozen food industry.

Image Credit: Flickr @ russellstreet

For the past couple of decades, flash freezing has mainly been used for freezing food. However, researchers have recently begun conducting studies that involve utilising flash freezing techniques to freeze human organs. These organs can then be used for organ transplants and for studying human cells. Though these researchers haven’t found success yet, they are making great progress. If these researchers do succeed, this could be a huge medical breakthrough. It could open the door to countless new medical techniques. Additionally, it might increase the number of available organs for people who need organ transplants, as with this technique, donor organs could be preserved for much longer. The main issue organ flash freezing is facing is that the temperature required to freeze organs is much lower than the temperature needed to flash freeze food. Additionally, flash freezing organs is a much more complex process than flash freezing food, and a lot of research still needs to be done on the subject. However, if the research shows that flash freezing is a safe and effective method of preserving organs, then a whole new form of organ transplantation could be created.

Overall, flash freezing is a modern day convenience that makes our lives much easier. Thanks to it, we can now ship food products across the world without worrying about them going bad or having an unpleasant taste. In addition to this, frozen foods have made it much easier for people to prepare an easy meal for the whole family on-the-go. Flash freezing even has the potential to become a massive innovation in the scientific world!

So, the next time you enjoy some sweet raspberries or munch on a late-night frozen pizza, remember that it's all thanks to the ground-breaking discovery of flash freezing.


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What Did You Learn?


1. Why does regular frozen food usually taste bad?

Regular frozen food tastes bad because of the ice crystals that form within it. For example, if you freeze a mango, then the water molecules within it will form ice crystals. As a result, once you take the mango out to thaw, all the ice crystals will begin to melt. The pressure from these melting ice crystals can put pressure on the cell membranes and easily puncture them. When the cells are punctured, the food product itself loses its flavor. It is for this same reason that frozen leftovers don’t taste as good as when you had first had them!

2. What sorts of obstacles do researchers who are looking into flash freezing organs face?

One of the biggest issues that researchers studying organ flash freezing are facing is that the temperature needed to flash freeze organs is much lower than the temperature used to flash freeze food. Additionally, flash freezing is a much more complex process, as the organ cells need to be kept alive and functioning so that they can be transferred into another human.

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