For many of today’s busy individuals, frozen foods are a mainstay of the daily diet. Though hailed as a quick and easy alternative to fast food that allows families to eat together in the comfort of their homes, it’s often debated that consumers are sacrificing quality and nutritional value for convenience — but is that true?
“Does freezing food sacrifice
quality and nutritional value
The Advent of Frozen Foods
Freezing food (or at least keeping it cold) has long been known as a way to increase its shelf life. However, the individual most widely credited with the modern freezing process is Clarence Birdseye, a fur-trader from Newfoundland, Canada who made a world changing observation in 1924. He noticed that when he pulled a fish from the frigid northern waters, that it would freeze almost instantly. He also noticed that this fish, once thawed even months later, tasted just as good as it would have had he eaten it the day he caught it. From this observation, he concluded that in order to maximize a product’s taste and texture, it should be frozen as quickly as possible.
Before this observation, foods that needed to be frozen were frozen at a much slower rate. This slower process allowed larger ice crystals to form within the product. At the cellular level, these larger ice crystals destroyed the cellular membrane, meaning that when it came time to thaw the food, the taste and texture would ‘drain’ away with the water.
What Happens to Fruits and Vegetables During the Freezing Process?
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, there are two types of reactions that occur during the freezing process — chemical and textural changes.
Contrary to widely-held knowledge, simply freezing a piece of fruit or vegetable at its peak freshness will not keep the item from spoiling. That’s because the enzymes within a piece of produce will continue to break down the item, unless it’s been properly deactivated. In vegetables, this means the product must be blanched (submerged in hot water or steam then quickly placing the vegetable in cold water to prevent cooking) prior being frozen. Blanching vegetables has the added benefit of killing microorganisms that might be lurking on the vegetable’s surface.
The enzymes found in fruits behave a little differently than those found in vegetables. Since fruits tend to be served raw, the blanching process is not a viable option to deactivate the enzymes. Instead, fruit destined for freezing are treated with a chemical compound (generally, this is ascorbic acid or, vitamin C) that impedes the destructive nature of the enzymes. Since fruits and vegetables are mostly comprised of water, their texture can vary greatly (becoming much softer) once thawed. This change isn’t typically noticed in vegetables, which, unlike frozen fruit, are often cooked before consumption. Unfortunately, cell rupturing in produce can’t be entirely avoided — but that doesn’t mean it can’t be controlled to some degree.
Why the Rate of Freezing is So Important
When paired with the right detecting technology, #frozen foods can be just as safe to consume, if not more so, than consuming fresh products. #frozenfoodClick To Tweet
Like Birdseye’s fish, the key to ensuring near perfect flavour and texture in fruits in vegetables relies heavily on how quickly it can be frozen. If freezing produce at home, be sure to consult the freezer manual, as it will often indicate which shelf of the freezer is the coldest and recommend to the user that the temperature be set to the coldest possible setting prior to freezing the produce.
Does the Quick Freeze Method Pose Any Inherent Dangers?
In and of itself, quick freezing meat and produce ensures a certain level of freshness and taste are maintained. It retards microbial growth as well as the natural chemical breakdown that all things in nature must eventually answer to. Having said that, the expeditious nature of freezing food at peak freshness means that the time elapsed from picking to packaging must be as little as possible. This means that food safety inspection must be done quickly and accurately.
One of the greatest risks of contamination of food products comes from the manufacturing process itself. For example, blades and saws used in slaughterhouses can degrade over time, as can the strainers and other equipment used to process produce. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that the excavators and other farming equipment didn’t introduce any contaminants while extracting the produce from the earth. This means that metallic contaminants in food are a very real possibility. For this reason, metal detectors in the food industry are a staple of the production process.
Installing metal detectors (to identify and flag any ferrous or non-ferrous contaminants at very small levels) as well as other types of detectors at critical control points throughout the manufacturing process is essential in the quick freezing process.
To come back to the original question, there is a cost to freezing food for consumption. Science and trial and error have found ways to make sure that not much is lost in terms of taste, nutritional value and texture. When paired with the right detecting technology, frozen foods can be just as safe to consume, if not more so, than consuming fresh products.
What do you think about the impact of freezing on the quality of your food?
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