Refrigeration is the process of cooling an object to a set temperature, usually several degrees or more lower than the temperature of the room in which the refrigerator is situated. This not only has the effect of making the object cooler but, where the object would usually be subject to decay or other chemical processes at the normal room temperature, refrigeration can slow or halt the process; maintaining the object in its current condition for longer than would be possible naturally.
Prior to refrigeration, storing food for more than a few days would often lead to the food spoiling and becoming inedible. While storing food underwater was possible in a river or lake, or in a cellar where the temperature would not rise as much, this would extend the lifespan of the food only slightly. Refrigeration allows the temperature to be lowered so far that food can be stored for days or even months.
Improvements in storage time have allowed manufacturers, distributors and end users, such as cooks and anyone preparing meals at home, to think ahead. Now meals can be prepared in bulk and stored for later consumption or prepared in a location that is more profitable rather than on-site preparation at extra cost. Cooking family meals to be eaten later in the week is possible as well as mass producing ready meals to send out to supermarkets.
Supplying perishable goods to a location far from its source used to be difficult or even impossible. Long distance journeys take time, and time meant a period in which the product would begin to spoil, with perishing happening quicker in high temperatures. Refrigeration allows for cold storage during transit, so the goods can arrive in the same condition as they were in when they left.
Manufacturing takes time and often requires certain conditions, such as a set temperature, in which the highest quality product can be made. For example, meat packing requires a low temperature to stop the meat from curing improperly or from spoiling before it can be canned. Before refrigeration, this meant that the highest quality goods were only possible at certain times of the year. Now they are possible at all times.