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What is better?

Fresh food counter vs the freezer cabinet – a comparison

Consumers have the choice when shopping at a supermarket: should they buy fruit, vegetables, fish or meat from the fresh food counter or from the freezer cabinet? Everyone decides differently. Regardless of fresh or frozen, consumers have to bear certain things in mind when it comes to purchase, transport, and storage.

The distance food covers in the food supply chain varies. Some foodstuffs are delivered fresh to the counter directly from the manufacturer/farmer, whilst others end up in the freezer cabinets after an intermediate stop in a blast chiller.

Whether food is sold as frozen or fresh depends on its characteristics. "Due to their high water content and delicate cell structures, vegetables and fruits such as lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, raw potatoes, watermelons, apples, pears, and grapes are not suitable for freezing. The same applies to dairy products such as yogurt, quark or sour cream because the proteins coagulate and the products acquire a grainy texture when thawed," says Anja Markant, Professor at the Department of Food Nutrition Facilities at the Muenster School of Vocational Education.

Just how fresh is fresh food?

"Food which is bought from the fresh food counter should demonstrate freshness; at best, regional products should be used," says Prof Markant. Freshly harvested food is rich in fibre and contains many vitamins and minerals. However, longer transport distances and storage times lead to lower levels of micronutrients. These levels are mainly influenced by factors to which the food is exposed such as light, oxygen, and heat. Prof Markant explains: "Bear in mind that raw produce from the supermarket has been in storage for days or even months before being sold; add to that subsequent storage at home. This can lead to a greater loss of valuable nutrients." If you do not intend to cook the fresh vegetables quickly or you cannot do without strawberries in the winter, you should go for frozen products. Frozen products are not season dependant and can be bought and consumed at any time of the year.

Frozen vs fresh food – a comparison

One strongly held opinion is that frozen products are an inferior alternative to fresh food. Prof Markant explains the difference by making the following comparison: "The highest concentrations of valuable nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are found in ripe vegetables and fruit harvested directly from the garden. This means that frozen vegetables and fruit tend to have slightly lower amounts of nutrients than fresh produce from the garden, as they have to be blanched for about eight minutes at 80 to 100 degrees Celsius before being blast chilled. However, if frozen vegetables or fruit are properly stored at minus 18 degrees Celsius, the average loss of vitamins and minerals is significantly lower than storing fresh vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator or at room temperature."

Although the quality of frozen products is not comparable to food which is freshly harvested, freezing is a gentle method of food preservation and ensures longer shelf life, as shown in the comparison by Prof Markant. During the process of freezing foodstuffs, manufacturers blast chill the products after they have been blanched. The products are frozen at minus 30 to 50 degrees Celsius. This method preserves the nutrients, taste, and colour of the products.

It all depends on the type of consumer

Consumer behaviour is a decisive factor when choosing frozen products or fresh food. Whilst cooking with fresh ingredients is time-consuming, frozen products offer a high degree of convenience, i.e. easy meal preparation: open the packaging, pour contents into a cooking pot, cook until ready. Using frozen products can help consumers save time during meal preparation and later when doing the washing-up. "Those who cannot go grocery shopping on a regular basis due to time constraints certainly benefit from buying frozen products. Additionally, one or two-person households can also benefit from this opportunity which allows them to use portions according to their individual needs," says Prof Markant.

This is also confirmed by the figures published by the German Frozen Food Institute (Tiefkühlinstitut). Last year, more than seventy-seven percent of the over 30 year-olds bought more fresh vegetables than those younger (fifty-seven percent). In addition, under 30 year-olds put more frozen fruit in their shopping basket (38%) compared to other groups with older consumers. Who puts what in their shopping basket also depends on the consumer's profession and lifestyle. The price difference between the cheaper frozen products and the more expensive fresh products also plays a role.

In addition to fresh products, frozen products are also increasingly being used in the catering business. According to the German Frozen Food Institute, in terms of volume, more frozen products are used in catering compared to final consumers. The sales volume rose by 4.1 % to 1.827 million tonnes.

An icy affair – from manufacturer to customer

Transport is of critical importance to ensure that frozen products are of good quality. Maintaining the integrity of the cold chain throughout the transport process is important to ensure the quality of the frozen products. Prof Markant says, "Considering that temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius only stop the growth of microorganisms, these temperatures are not enough to kill them. Microorganisms can multiply when frozen food thaws at higher temperatures.

Food logistics companies like the Nagel-Group ensure smooth transport of foodstuffs to the supermarket. Frozen and fresh products are transported throughout Europe while constantly maintaining and controlling the integrity of the cold chain and food hygiene. The temperature during transport is always adjusted to match the requirements of the respective product. Quality is ensured through constant monitoring.

This also means that care must be taken while transporting the products from the supermarket to home. "Thawing should be avoided when consumers buy frozen products. Frozen products are best placed in the shopping cart towards the end of shopping and then quickly transported home, if possible in a cooler bag. They should then be put in a freezer with a temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius without delay," advises Prof Markant.

Photos: © Industrieblick | stock.adobe.com, © silver-john - Fotolia.com, © Thomas Teufel - Fotolia.com

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