Keeping Food Fresh

Nowadays we don’t have any problems keeping food fresh and safe to eat. We have fridges, freezers, vacuum packs as well as the dried and tinned foods which have been around much longer. Also, everything – even tinned food! – has a sell by/ use by date printed on it. The humble sell-by date actually has a surprisingly short history here in the UK. It was introduced in Marks & Spencer’s storerooms in the 1950s before making its way onto the shelves in 1970. It wasn’t even called a “sell-by-date” until 1973. Like a lot of people who date back to pre-sell-by date years, I still rely on the look, feel and smell of food rather than panicking and throwing food away the day after the date has passed. I appreciate that people who eat meat and fish have to be extra careful and to take no risks.





When I was very young, in the early 1950s,  we didn’t have a fridge. I remember the arrival of our first one being so exciting! In the summer, my mum used to hang bottles of milk in a string bag in the stream to stop the milk going off. We had a pantry with a stone slab in it which was meant to keep things cool. It is very easy to tell when milk has turned sour. Bread goes dry, cheese goes mouldy, potatoes go green and start sprouting, some foods start smelling bad. When these sort of foods have been kept too long or have been stored incorrectly the result is obvious. The hidden danger is when food has turned and could be hazardous but there are no obvious signs which is when sell by dates are important.


A 1950s kitchen with an early fridge.

UK’s first frozen food product was asparagus made by Smedley’s of Wisbech which is a fact which surprised me as I had assumed the ubiquitous pea would have been the first frozen vegetable. Although frozen food went on sale for the first time in Britain on May 10, 1937, the average UK householder did not have easy access to it until the 1950s and 60s. Home freezers first became popular in the 1970s .  Apparently, the sales of frozen food were boosted during the Second World War as metals for tins were in very short supply but I reckon that would only have been in cities and not in the more rural areas such as where I grew up.

The face of Birds Eye in the UK – Captain Birds Eye.









13 thoughts on “Keeping Food Fresh

  1. Reading todays informative article..and those lovely pictures of foods..’gone round the twist’..brings back memories for sure. During wwll..we canned rabbit and chicken meat..sometimes a place called the Home Cannery..on main st. in springfield. They had tin cans..and the sealing all the heated units..for cooking the tins..proper amount of time. My grandmother..had the coolroom items..down in her basement..where the buttermilk was kept. On the second floor, behind the kitchen..were all the grains, cake and sweets and bread storage. There was an old fridge..with shelves and drain a block of ice..could be dumped in..and thus a cold temp..kept..say for a day and a night. Because we had so many folks in the extended family..coming and going..due to the commercial fishing on the Columbia family became..fairly early adopters..of electric freezer. Then..where salted or smoked salmon..was the only way salmon..other than fresh could cook ahead, save fish..well wrapped in waxed paper. I still cherish..a roll of waxed paper..for some food storage bits and pieces.

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  2. Really interesting. I can remember the pantry with the cold slab. There was a meat safe in there too with a mesh door to keep the flies out. I had no idea asparagus was the first frozen food, I too thought it was the pea!

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  3. My grandmother had a pantry in which she kept most of her food, but she also had a fridge. This was in the late 50s onwards. She used to measure me against the fridge and I do recall one time she said something about us meeting in the middle as I was growing up and she was small and had lost more height as she’d got older! (And all this in broken English as she knew very little English). I’d also not known about the early frozen foods… that seems really strange.

    I remember about a decade ago telling someone online how to tell if an egg was bad, by putting it in a pan or bowl of cold water: if it floats, it’s bad. I generally take notice if the ‘use by’ dates on meat and fish, but rarely bother about ‘best before’ dates which to my mind are just ridiculous!

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  4. Reblogged this on femininematerz and commented:
    Did you know that Frozen Freezers first became popular in the 1970s? How do you keep your food fresh now? Check out this post from a dear friend in the blogosphere. Merly’s page takes you down interesting memory lane every time… Love it ❤️

    Sharing my space in love with friends this September. Happy New month!

    Adebisi Adetunji (C)

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  5. I was born in Yorkshire at the end of the 1950’s. I remember our kitchen pantry in the 1960’s having a cold stone slab that all the fresh food would stand on. I also remember a bread bin with a roller door to keep the bread fresh…and if it started to get a little stale it would be placed in a hot oven for a couple of minutes to “freshen it up”. We always had fresh veg daily from my dad’s allotment garden. Milk was delivered daily in glass bottles with foil tops that the birds used to peck through to get at the cream. It wasn’t until the early 70’s that we got a fridge and later still that we had a fridge with a freezer built in. But we managed. These days we have too many appliances.

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