The Hidden Benefits of Frozen Food (or The Story of Clarence Birdseye)

Frozen Food Clarence Birdseye


That’s a patent number, registered in 1930.

You’ve likely never heard of it. And nor should you have. To you and me, it’s a string of numbers sitting in a dusty filing cabinet that, for nearly a century, no one has paid much attention to.

But to inventor (and personal hero) Clarence Birdseye, it changed the world of food forever.


It kept food cold. Frozen cold. And it’s got a cool Canadian connection.

The Story

In 1912, Clarence Birdseye took a job exploring the sparsely populated island of Newfoundland Labrador. He was seeking adventure & animals, and Labrador had lots of both. You just had to deal with the odd -40c winter afternoon.

On one of those cold afternoons, Clarence was fishing with a group Northern Inuit hunters when he noticed something strange about the condition of Atlantic salmon after they were caught.

They froze.

Almost immediately after being exposed to the crisp winter wind, the gorgeous chrome fish Clarence loved more than anything were frozen to the core. 

And his fellow huntsmen didn't seem to care.

It was business as usual.

Clarence only knew of only two ways to eat fish: canned or fresh. But northern native communities knew there was little to do to prevent these flash frozen conditions, and they also knew fish tasted just as good after they thawed as they did fresh.

Clarence was fascinated.

Believe it or not, to a Westerner from Brooklyn in the 1900’s, that was a hugely innovative notion. Clarence ate more canned food than a house cat, and the thought of having fresh fish stored for longer than a few days got his entrepreneurial pistons firing.

He moved back to the temperate east coast and formulated a plan that eventually became the world’s first freezer. And it got traction. By the time Clarence passed, Frozen food was a $1 billion industry. 

What Clarence didn’t know was how compelling freezing would be not just for preserving taste, but for preserving nutrition.

Maybe you didn’t know that either.


In fact, I’m willing to bet there are a few more benefits to frozen you hadn’t considered:

1. Nutrition 

Ever wonder how old the produce you’ve purchased is?

To put it into context – my 6-month-old nephew has some apples twice his senior parading as “fresh” in the grocery aisle. Lettuce and other greens can be as old as 4 weeks. You’d be surprised how intricate the distribution routes are from farm to corporate food provider. It’s the sort of web that would make Charlotte nauseous.

While the degradation of nutrients over time varies amongst different fruits and vegetables, freezing produce renders terrific nutritional results. Fruits and veggies frozen soon after picking retain up to 45% more nutrition than their grocery aisle counterpart.

Almost 1.5 times the nutritional value, and you don’t need to worry about whether your nephew should be tutored by the sage-like wisdom of the year old Granny Smith.

2. Food Waste

Clarence Birdseye dreamed that frozen food would open the culinary doors to his native Brooklynites in a way they’d never been exposed to before. In the 20’s, folks ate locally because they had to. Freezing technology provided a vehicle for international cuisine to get anywhere there was demand for it. New Yorkers's were eating more foreign, and without knowing it, throwing out less. 

How many times have you opened up your fridge, and happened upon wasted produce? Discoloured & bruised fruit, wilted and wet greens.

We collectively throw out enough produce each year to fill 40 skyscrapers to the brim. Just with discarded produce.

Leave managing fruit and veggie shelf life to the shrewd restaurant manager. And pro tip: avoid the “soup-du-jour” after a long weekend.

3. Convenience

We’re all creatures progressively pursuing more convenient ways of enjoying that which we love: tasty chow. Don’t bet on yourself to take the long road.

Integrating the right staple frozen food items can pay nutritional dividends while ensuring that you don’t end up making a stir fry out of beets and chard because they’re about to go bad. 

Does this change the way you look at the frozen aisle? Or are you still a skeptic? Let me know in the comments below!