Why I love flash frozen food and think you should too

See original post and follow up discussion on /r/slatestarcodex here

My musings on innovation and product adoption with respect to flash frozen food. While the post contains a specific recommendation, it’s purpose is just to reflect generally on the broader trend.


I recently asked a few friends (where I live in Canada) where they think the Atlantic salmon they eat comes from and they all responded somewhere in the Atlantic off the coast of Canada; they were perplexed to hear I buy Salmon from a far away country like Norway.

The reality is that there is no wild caught Atlantic salmon off the coast of Canada (or really anywhere else) due to restrictions on fishing it. Almost all Atlantic salmon sold is farmed. The reason my friends were confused is because when they buy salmon at the grocery store, it appears fresh, so they assume it must in fact be fresh and have come from a near-by source.

I buy all my Atlantic salmon in individually frozen packages at Costco. Costco used to get its Atlantic salmon from Chile but due to geopolitical factors including falling oil prices (leading to depreciation of the Kroner) and political squabbles with China and Russia (leading to reduced exports to those countries), the cost of Norwegian salmon declined and Costco switched its supplier. The salmon is excellent, nutritious and affordable.

My friends were misled. The fish they buy at the grocery store, which they believe to be fresh, has all been frozen. This brings me to the point of this post – frozen food is an incredible innovation that most people are ignorant of and don’t appreciate.


In 1912, a young engineer named Clarence Birdseye went to work in frigid Labrador (now part of northern Canada). Birdseye, like people around the world and as had been done for centuries, would freeze the fish he caught to keep it fresh. Birdseye was surprised when he thawed his fish in Labrador, it tasted far fresher and better than it did back home. Birdseye discovered that fish, when frozen very quickly in extremely cold temperatures, preserves its quality far better.

This eventually led to the creation of what is now referred to as flash freezing – quickly freezing food at extremely cold temperatures . My understanding is when food is frozen quickly at extreme temperatures, the ice crystals formed are significantly smaller and reduce damage to the cell membrane of the food.

Over the past 100 years, the technology has advanced to the point where flash freezing can be done anywhere in the world, affordably and at a very high quality.

The benefits of this are enormous.

Flash frozen food enables food to be frozen at its peak ripeness/freshness and subsequently consumed at peak ripeness/freshness. Flash frozen food greatly reduces food spoilage as it enables the shipping and logistics timeline to be greatly extended and less sensitive to delays. This extends the distance in which it is practical to ship food, thus increasing the market availability for producers. This leads to higher quality, more efficient and better utilized food production sources.

Flash frozen food makes it possible for consumers to buy higher quality and cheaper food. More critically, because flash frozen food can be sold individually packaged and can be defrosted whenever one needs it for single servings, flash frozen food enables the consumer to reduce their own food spoilage, while making it easier to plan and organize their meals and grocery shopping.


Going back to the original example raised in the post – if the grocery store buys frozen Atlantic salmon, why do they defrost it and sell it as fresh? Fortunately, the food industry is aware of the benefits of flash frozen food and a sizeable amount of fresh fish, meat, fruits and vegetables sold in Canadian grocery stores have in fact been flash frozen. Unfortunately, consumers have an aversion to frozen food leading grocery stores to defrost the previously frozen food to make it appear “fresh”.

This is worse for the consumer in every way because rather than having the benefit of buying frozen that can be defrosted right before consumption, ensuring it doesn’t get wasted or eaten too late, the defrosted food purchased is now stuck on the timeline of whenever they purchased the food and must be eaten immediately.

So if flash frozen food is so great, why do most people view frozen food so poorly? I don’t have a great answer to this. I suspect there are three separate things going on here.

The first is that the availability of high quality flash frozen food is relatively recent. I believe many people think of the quality of frozen food from many years ago when it really was sold at a lower quality, or from their own experiences freezing fresh food in their freezer and noticing a reduction in quality.

The second part is that the role of food in our lives is different. People are getting married and having children later. Gender roles have evolved so there are no longer a class of people expected to cook every meal for a family, in addition to a cohort of people who no longer can rely on others to cook for them. Generally speaking, fewer people even know how to cook and people seem to be willing to spend less time on cooking/grocery shopping than before. Given that one of the major benefits of buying frozen food is the convenience of extending your food’s shelf life, reducing spoilage and grocery store trips, people just haven’t realized how enormous of a benefit this provides.

The third part of this is a stigma against frozen food because of what it represents. Frozen meals used to be targeted at those who were eating alone and did not know how to cook. These meals were low quality, unhealthy, not very good and seen as low status. I believe there is still some leftover stigma due to this.


In summary, flash frozen food is the future. Specifically, frozen individually packaged ingredients. Likely full flash frozen dishes will become the norm as well.

One of my favourite innovations of the Covid age is seeing the number of restaurants selling high quality frozen meals. The meals I’ve ordered were pre-cooked and then flash frozen, requiring me to boil the frozen meal in water, leading to a delicious, restaurant quality-meal at home. I’ve had ramen, fish and meat based dishes and they were all spectacular and in my opinion, higher quality than a standard take-out meal.

Similarly, more and more Grocery stores have started to sell pre-made flash frozen meals using high quality ingredients.

I cannot recommend buying flash frozen food enough and I am very excited to see the growth of this trend and all the positives that it brings along with it.

EDIT: for anyone wanting evidence on the quality difference between frozen and fresh, here is randomized double blind trial on testing frozen sushi vs fresh sushi in Japan demonstrating this point: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4392844/