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Frozen Food Discoveries Win National Science Award

By Marcia Wood
December 11, 2002

ALBANY, Calif., Dec. 11–Today's delightfully varied selection of tasty, easy-to-prepare frozen foods results largely from pioneering research conducted in Albany, Calif., by experts with the Agricultural Research Service. Working in the 1940s through mid-1960s, chemists, engineers and other specialists at the agency's Western Regional Research Center at Albany carried out detailed investigations of all the steps required for taking a food from field to freezer to fork.

Their studies helped processors in the then-young frozen food industry capture the appealing natural tastes, textures, aromas and colors of foods. The work was invaluable in enabling these processors to create convenient, freezer-friendly products for every meal of the day--and for snacks, too.

"By thoroughly exploring the complex chemistry of how to properly prepare foods for freezing, these ARS scientists helped processors overcome major difficulties and greatly improve the quality and variety of their products," said Rodney J. Brown, deputy undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "The work led to top-quality frozen vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry and baked goods."

The 17-year project--what became known primarily as the Time-Temperature Tolerance studies, or T-TT for short--was today honored as a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific association. A bronze plaque commemorating the researchers' discoveries was unveiled in a morning ceremony at the Western Regional Research Center, located near Berkeley.

"Leading food processors around the globe still use the science-based guidelines, techniques and recommendations that the Albany researchers developed," Brown noted.

Hundreds of items in supermarket freezer cases--from hearty, traditional fare to light, gourmet cuisine--were "made possible by the knowledge emanating from the Albany studies of how to correctly freeze, store and transport frozen foods," Brown said. "The Center's work has enabled millions of Americans to conveniently and affordably get the nutrients they need every day."

The Albany scientists devised mathematical formulas for predicting stability--the length of time a given type of food would retain its fresh qualities in supermarket or home freezers. The researchers then used that information to help processors select the kinds of foods that could best tolerate freezing.

In studies of how to perfectly blanch field-fresh vegetables, to prepare them for freezing, the researchers determined that the natural enzymes in certain kinds of foods needed to be quelled, while in others, they needed to be preserved. In addition, the scientists developed new, practical methods and standards for objectively measuring a product's quality.

American Chemical Society National Historic Chemical Landmarks are selected by a panel of internationally known scientists and others.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief research agency.

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