25 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century: Frozen foods

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. thaw out / θɔ aʊt / (phrasal v.) – to warm up a frozen item so that it gradually unfreezes

    Please thaw out the frozen chicken so that I can chop it easily.

  2. at scale / æt skeɪl / (adv.) – at the size needed to solve a problem

    Katie needs more funds to expand her baking business and produce cakes at scale.

  3. ready-made / ˈrɛd iˈmeɪd / (adj.) – prepared in advance so that it can be used immediately

    I didn’t have the time to buy and cook fresh tomatoes, so I just used ready-made tomato sauce for the spaghetti.

  4. muss / mʌs / (n.) – the state of being messy or disorderly

    We cleared the dried leaves from the garage this morning, but the strong wind turned it into a muss.

  5. muck about / mʌk əˈbaʊt / (phrasal v.) – to waste time doing something silly or useless

    Stop mucking about and focus on your homework!


Read the text below.

Clarence Birdseye loved fish, and that’s why we can buy frozen foods. At first glance, the two parts of that sentence may not seem connected, but they are.

In the early 20th century, Birdseye worked for the U.S. government as a naturalist in New Mexico and Arizona. But it was his time from 1912-15 in Labrador, now part of Canada, that would earn him a place in history.

Temperatures in Labrador can drop well below zero. Birdseye learned from the Inuit how to catch fish from deep below ice, and noticed that they froze hard almost instantly in the cold air. When they were thawed out and cooked, they tasted delicious.

What he saw is called flash freezing. When foods are frozen quickly, they taste better than normally frozen foods because the ice crystals that appear are smaller.

Birdseye spent years trying to flash-freeze foods at scale. He founded Birdseye Seafood Inc. in 1922 to freeze fish fillets at minus 43 degrees Celsius. The company is now Birds Eye Ltd., and his flash freezing was a breakthrough that shook the foods industry.

Over the years, everything improved. Liquid nitrogen could freeze foods more quickly, and down to minus 196 C. And all kinds of foods were frozen, not just fish.

By the 1960s, people could buy ready-made frozen meals. You heated them up in an oven — these days, a microwave — and ate them straight away. No muss, no mucking about in the kitchen.

So the next time you eat a frozen meal, say a thank you to Clarence Birdseye and his love of fish. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Flash freezing was a breakthrough that shook the foods industry. What do you think would’ve happened if it wasn’t introduced by Birdseye? Why? Discuss.
  • By the 1960s, people could buy ready-made frozen meals. One can eat a meal right after heating it up in an oven or a microwave. Why do you think ready-made meals became popular (ex. people don’t have time to cook, they can’t cook certain dishes)? Do you think you can eat only ready-made frozen meals for a month? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Birdseye’s love of fish led to the development of flash freezing. In your opinion, should people always aim to turn their interests or hobbies into a business idea? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Birdseye spent years developing flash freezing and eventually founded his own company. In your opinion, is it always necessary to spend several years on something for it to be successful? Why or why not? What’s something you’d be willing to spend a lot of years on to make it successful? Discuss.