I love the sight of those vivid food packages in those huge freezers at supermarkets that keep calling me like an old friend I know will be no good for my sanity but I choose to reconnect with them anyway. Life becomes a breeze with these ready to eat meals. All it requires is a microwave and a few minutes to get yummy food on your plate. I am all for the convenience technology brings, but I have not been okay with people adding frozen stuff to their diet chart.
The act of freezing food is not new though. It has been around since 3000 BC when ancient Chinese used ice cellars to preserve food through changing weather conditions. Others have been storing all sorts of meats and seafood in freezers to lock in their freshness and increase shelf life. But the trend has taken a sharp turn in the last few years due to impulse purchasing, and a huge demand for convenient ways of life in this fast-paced modern era. During the pandemic, stocking up actually became a necessity. The net result: it is projected that the frozen food market size will reach $420 billion by the year 2027 in USA alone, clocking a compound growth rate of 5%.
I won’t be ranting about the idea of freezing food, rather the dangers of processed frozen food. Nutritionists and dieticians in unison have been warning us to cut down on processed food, if not eliminate them completely.
Not too long ago, frozen food was commercially limited to seafood, poultry, and vegetables as it was a perfect method to keep stuff fresh and avoid the waste generated due to a surplus of food spoilage.
Introduction of domestic refrigerators saw the rise of the mass production of ready-to-serve meals and their growing consumption in all age groups.
Srishti Mathur, a nutrition and dietetics professor at Shoolini University in Solan, India, warns that almost all frozen foods are loaded with preservatives, excess calories, and transfats, causing heart diseases such as atherosclerosis, which is caused by clogged arteries due to a build-up of bad cholesterol. Frozen food is a no-no, particularly for individuals following a sedentary lifestyle, she adds. “However, no food group is a hero or enemy, moderation is key to healthy eating,” she emphasizes.
Enroute danger zone
Frozen food now travels long distances as companies try to ship out their products to more and more regions of the world, which means it takes longer than usual for a product to reach the consumer’s refrigerator. In the process, there is a possibility of packaged goods shuttling between different modes of transportation, potentially exposing them to changing temperatures, making them unfit for consumption even before you buy them.
Optimal temperature to keep food fresh is 0℉. The food microbes enter a dormant stage at that temperature, extending the life of food and preventing food-borne illnesses. However, once heated or thawed, the USFDA suggests that food should be consumed immediately or stored in the refrigerator within two hours, or the food moves to the danger zone beyond 40℉.
The nutrition dilemma
The nutrient value of frozen food is determined at the time the products are shifted to freezing. Ideally, raw items are supposed to be frozen at their peak quality. But with canned, pre-packaged, TV dinners, you are in an unknown zone as the production of such items involves a series of steps. So, you never really get to know the quality of key ingredients involved in the preparation.
Deli meat sandwiches, pizzas, breakfast bowls, and a variety of entrees are all meant to be freshly cooked. Freezing them requires preservatives and other condiments to help food stay edible for a prolonged period of time. High amount of sodium used as preservative is the worst culprit. Salt is the number one factor in developing high blood pressure, which leads to still worse health issues.
Now, most organizations claim their products are completely safe and go through quality checks regularly with well-defined transit logistics, which is probably true. Yet, I believe nothing beats fresh homecooked meals. The process of getting fresh produce from the farmer’s market and cooking food over an actual fire and eating your meal hot is the traditional and best way of having meals and saying healthy. There is a reason why people still enjoy woodfire pizzas, Sunday barbeques, and potlucks, as there is a personal touch to the food prepared and an enhanced taste that one may not find in the freezers with ready-to-serve options in the commercial freezers of supermarts.