Freezing food preserves it from the time it is prepared to the time it is eaten. Since early times, farmers, fishermen, and trappers have preserved their game and produce in unheated buildings during the winter season. Freezing food slows down decomposition by turning residual moisture into ice, inhibiting the growth of most bacterial species. In the food commodity industry, the process is called IQF or Individually Quick Frozen (flash freezing).
Preserving food in domestic kitchens during the 20th and 21st centuries is achieved using household freezers. Accepted advice to householders was to freeze food on the day of purchase. An initiative by a supermarket group in 2012 (backed by the UK's Waste & Resources Action Programme) promotes advising the freezing of food "as soon as possible up to the product's 'use by' date". The Food Standards Agency was reported as supporting the change, providing the food had been stored correctly up to that time.
Frozen products do not require any added preservatives because microorganisms do not grow when the temperature of the food is below -9.5°C, which is sufficient on its own in preventing food spoilage. Long-term preservation of food may call for food storage at even lower temperatures. Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), a tasteless and odorless stabilizer, is typically added to frozen food because it does not adulterate the quality of the product. 
Beginning in 1929, Clarence Birdseye offered his quick-frozen foods to the public. Birdseye got the idea during fur-trapping expeditions to Labrador in 1912 and 1916, where he saw the natives use freezing to preserve foods. Modern attempts at refrigeration began in the early 20th century in the meat packing industry. More advanced attempts include food frozen for Eleanor Roosevelt on her trip to Russia. Other experiments, involving orange juice, ice cream and vegetables were conducted by the military near the end of World War II.
Frozen food packaging must maintain its integrity throughout machine filling, sealing, freezing, storage, transportation, thawing, and often cooking. As many frozen foods are cooked in a microwave oven, manufacturers have developed packaging that can go straight from freezer to the microwave.
In 1974, the first differential heating container (DHC) was sold to the public. A DHC is a sleeve of metal designed to allow frozen foods to receive the correct amount of heat. Various sized apertures were positioned around the sleeve. The consumer would put the frozen dinner into the sleeve according to what needed the most heat. This ensured proper cooking.
Scientists are continually researching new aspects of frozen food packaging. Active packaging offers a host of new technologies that can actively sense and then neutralize the presence of bacteria or other harmful species. Active packaging can extend shelf-life, maintain product safety, and help preserve the food over a longer period of time. Several functions of active packaging are being researched:
- Oxygen scavengers
- Time Temperature Indicators and digital temperature dataloggers
- Carbon Dioxide controllers
- Microwave susceptors
- Moisture control: Water activity, Moisture vapor transmission rate, etc.
- Flavor enhancers
- Odor generators
- Oxygen-permeable films
- Oxygen generators
- Validation of cold chain
Effects on nutrients
Vitamin content of frozen foods
- Vitamin C: Usually lost in a higher concentration than any other vitamin. A study was performed on peas to determine the cause of vitamin C loss. A vitamin loss of ten percent occurred during the blanching phase with the rest of the loss occurring during the cooling and washing stages. The vitamin loss was not actually accredited to the freezing process. Another experiment was performed involving peas and lima beans. Frozen and canned vegetables were both used in the experiment. The frozen vegetables were stored at −10 °F (−23 °C) and the canned vegetables were stored at room temperature (75 °F). After 0, 3, 6, and 12 months of storage, the vegetables were analyzed with and without cooking. O'Hara, the scientist performing the experiment said, "From the view point of the vitamin content of the two vegetables when they were ready for the plate of the consumer, there did not appear to be any marked advantages attributable to method of preservation, frozen storage, processed in a tin, or processed in glass."
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): A vitamin loss of 25 percent is normal. Thiamin is easily soluble in water and is destroyed by heat.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Not much research has been done to see how much freezing affects Riboflavin levels. Studies that have been performed are inconclusive; one study found an 18 percent vitamin loss in green vegetables, while another determined a 4 percent loss. It is commonly accepted that the loss of Riboflavin has to do with the preparation for freezing rather than the actual freezing process itself.
- Vitamin A (Carotene): There is little loss of carotene during preparation for freezing and freezing of most vegetables. Much of the vitamin loss is incurred during the extended storage period.
Freezing is an effective form of food preservation because the pathogens that cause food spoilage are killed or do not grow very rapidly at reduced temperatures. The process is less effective in food preservation than are thermal techniques, such as boiling, because pathogens are more likely to be able to survive cold temperatures rather than hot temperatures. One of the problems surrounding the use of freezing as a method of food preservation is the danger that pathogens deactivated (but not killed) by the process will once again become active when the frozen food thaws.
Foods may be preserved for several months by freezing. Long-term frozen storage requires a constant temperature of -18 °C (0 °F) or less.
According to a study, an American consumes on average 71 frozen foods a year, most of which are pre-cooked frozen meals. Many food critics host shows are dedicated to the tasting and reviewing of frozen foods, the web show Freezerburns being one of the more notable ones.
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