Frozen foods are easy to take for granted—all that clever packaging, all those choices, all that ice cream—simply because their very existence hinges on simplicity, convenience, and ease. But frozen foods have a complicated backstory, a long scientific evolution, and a debate over pizza origins that could make your head spin. In honor of National Frozen Food Day, which takes place on March 6, let's dig into the history.
1. They don't require any added preservatives.
Frozen foods do not require any added preservatives to keep them safe and consumable, because microbes—the kind that make you sick—cannot grow on any food that is at a temperature less than 0°F. The microbes don't die at that temperature, but they stop multiplying. Be careful when you unfreeze food; microbes will instantly start growing as they do on unfrozen food, so it’s best to handle thawing food as you would fresh food.
2. It's a myth that freezing food depletes it of nutrients.
Despite some old wives’ tales, freezing food does not remove any nutrients. Freeze away!
3. Freezer burn is normal.
You don’t need to be afraid of freezer burn or color changes in your properly frozen food. Freezer burn is just the result of air hitting frozen food and allowing the ice to sublimate; other color changes can be blamed on long freezing times or poor packaging. It might look gross, but if your frozen food has maintained a proper temperature, it’s fine to eat. (Still, give it a sniff before chowing down.)
4. Over time, freezing food can diminish its quality.
Freezing food typically keeps items edible indefinitely, although taste and quality may diminish over time. Some items that stay tasty even after long freezes include uncooked game, poultry, and meat, which are still good even after up to a year in the freezer.
5. Frozen foods hit the industrial market in the 1800s.
Even though freezing food was used as a storage technique in cold weather climates for many years, it’s believed it was first applied to industrial food sales sometime in the 1800s, when a wily Russian company froze a small quantity of duck and geese and shipped them to London. By 1899, the Baerselman Bros. company adapted frozen storage for their own Russia-to-England food shipping business, though they initially only operated during cold weather months.
6. Carl Paul Gottfried Linde is the unofficial godfather of frozen food.
Carl Paul Gottfried Linde, an engineer, scientist, and professor at the Technical University of Munich, is basically the father of frozen food. Sort of. He helped pioneer industrial cooling, through what’s commonly known as the Hampson-Linde cycle, and used his findings to plan an ice and refrigeration machine back in the 19th century.
7. Guinness played a part in the history of frozen food.
Linde’s desire to build such machines was only furthered in 1892, when the Guinness Brewery requested that Linde create a carbon dioxide liquefaction plant for them, pushing him still further into the arena of low temperature refrigeration and the liquefaction of air. Thanks, beer!
8. Clarence Birdseye revolutionized the industry.
Ever wonder about the namesake of Birds Eye Frozen Foods? It came straight from the company’s founder, Clarence Birdseye, who introduced the concept of flash freezing to the world.
9. Birdseye's "a-ha" moment came to him in the Arctic.
Birdseye developed his technique after seeing food freezing in action in the Arctic, and noting how much better frozen fish tasted if it had been frozen immediately after been caught—like a flash!—versus food that was frozen on a delay.
10. Birdseye is also partly to thank for the freezers that line grocery store aisles.
Not only did Birdseye help pioneer flash freezing as a frozen food standard, he also helped develop in-store freezer cases and refrigerated boxcars that allowed his frozen foods (and, yes, others) to travel near and far.
11. America's first commercial frozen food line went on sale in 1930.
Birdseye’s food was so prevalent that it was actually the first frozen food sold commercially in the United States. On March 6, 1930, Birds Eye frozen foods were put on sale at Davidson’s Market in Springfield, Massachusetts, the first product of its kind.
12. The TV dinner was not the first frozen meal.
The first “complete” frozen meal was not actually the beloved TV dinner—it was airplane food! In 1945, Maxson Food Systems, Inc. starting making their so-called “Strato-Plates,” meals that were created specifically for consumption on airplanes (both by military and civilian passengers). Each frozen meal included a meat, a vegetable, and a potato, and was meant to be reheated for in-air chowing.
13. It was Swanson's who coined the term TV dinner.
Maxson closed up shop before their Strato-Plates could be sold on the ground, but other companies picked up the slack, including One-Eyed Eskimo, Quaker State Food, and Swanson’s, which is widely hailed as the true creator of TV dinners: they coined the name and were the most well-known maker of tasty compartmentalized meals in the 1950s.
14. A corporate executive's heart attack inspired the "healthy" frozen meal trend.
Conagra Foods introduced its Healthy Choice line of frozen food back in 1989, after the corporation was inspired to pursue healthy frozen picks after its chairman, Charles Harper, suffered a heart attack due to his bad eating habits.
15. Who invented the frozen pizza? It's complicated.
There’s long been a debate over which company first introduced the frozen pizza to the grocery store market, with both Totino’s and Tombstone vying for the title. A more likely candidate? The Celentano brothers, who owned their own Italian specialty store in New Jersey in the 1950s, are believed to have marketed the first frozen pizza in 1957.
This article originally appeared in 2016.