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Technology [...] food processing in history, and how the development of food processing technologies has altered lives for the better. Food processing, and the healthy, edible food it produces, is taken for granted in today's society. However, in the nineteenth century, fresh food was not normal, and technologies were developed to preserve food, so that more Americans could enjoy fresh, wholesome food year round. It was one of the most important technologies to develop, and it changed the way people ate, drank, and enjoyed their meals.
Before the advent of food processing, fresh food spoiled, it was that simple. In medieval times, people attempted to cover up the smell and taste of tainted food by using fragrant herbs in the cooking and serving process. Even earlier, people used salt to preserve meats, and they used smoking and drying, especially for meats. However, none of these processes was totally satisfactory, and there was still no way to preserve many fruits, vegetables, and baked goods. Therefore, Americans, and others around the world, relied on fresh food when it was available, usually during the warmer summer months, but in the winter, early spring, and late fall, most of the food available was meat or freshly baked goods, and some root vegetables that would keep through the colder months. The development of food processing technology changed all that, and allowed the world to eat a wider variety of foods all year round. It was a breakthrough in technology, but it was also a breakthrough in the eating habits of Americans, because they could enjoy more food, and more freshly processed food, creating variety in their diet, but giving them many more healthy food options, too. In addition, even people in rural areas, far from the produce and food centers of the country, could eat the same foods that others could eat, despite their isolation.
The First Real Food Processing Technology -- Canning
The first canned food appeared in France in the early 1800s. Nicholas Appert, a chef and brewer, discovered that filling glass jars to the tops with food and boiling the jars would preserve the food inside, and it would not spoil until after the jar was opened. It took him fifteen years of tinkering before he got it right, but in the end, he made his information and results openly available to the world. He never took out a patent on his process, because he hoped home cooks could use it for their own benefit.
In 1817, an Englishman named William Underwood brought the technology to America. He settled in New York, and began a small business of preserving pickles and fruits in glass jars. Food processing was still in its infancy at this point, and people like Underwood did not know precisely how long to boil the jars for best results. One historian notes, "Processing foods had always been a matter of conjecture when glass containers were used."
By 1825, the term "canning" was applied to the process, when Thomas Kensett patented his process of packing oysters and fruits in tin cans. Kensett actually patented the container, and after his innovation, canning grew tremendously in the United States. Canning spread all over the country, but it took until 1851 for the sterilization process to be perfected. An American by the name of Winslow discovered how to sterilize effectively at high temperatures, and the process became much more scientific and no longer based on chance and speculation.
By 1860, there were canning factories in California and all across the nation, and canned food would play an important role in feeding the soldier of the Civil War.
As important as the actual technology of canning was, it still needed refining, and there was still the problem of containers. Although Thomas Kensett had patented the canning process, it was not until the 1850s that machines were created to automatically stamp out the lids and bottoms, which speeded up the canning process considerably. Lids were created with large holes, where the food could be poured into the container, and then a cover was soldered on to seal the food. By 1876, the technology had improved even further. Historian Oliver continues,
In 1876 the Howe floater eliminated the tinner's soldering iron, since a machine rolled the cans at an angle in a bath of solder. The Tillery copper was even more efficient. It spread solder around the edge of the cap in one operation. In 1887 the Cox capper transformed the process into mass production by operating on six cans at once, completing a tray of twenty-four cans automatically.
Thus, can making was altered, and for the first time, canners did not have to make their own cans, they could buy them from other vendors, and concentrate on the food side of the business. By 1900, the entire process was automated. In 1880, only three workers could turn out at least 1500 cans in a day, but by 1900, machines were cranking out 50 cans per minute.
Just before 1900, cans were altered so they did not need solder, and designed so that the lids were held on by crimping a part of the body of the can over the lid to seal it. These were called "sanitary cans," and became the standard in the industry.
The right cans were just part of the entire process. As automation created more utensils, more food was needed to fill them, and a variety of food processing equipment was invented in the mid-nineteenth century to keep up with the demand. Several different machines, from corn knifes to scrape corn off the cob, to pea shellers developed during the mid- to late-1800s to meet the growing demand for canned food, and more variety in canned foods. As the public got used to canned food, the demand rose, and so did the need for more technology to meet the needs of a demanding public. By 1883, the first assembly lines in canning had been established, and automatic canning began in Indiana. The process was detailed, as historian Oliver notes, "the cans were filled and passed on a belt through a temperature of 250 degrees, then to a water cooler, and then to the warehouse without any stoppage in the process. During the operation, cans were not touched by hand."
Automation was one of the most important developments in canning, because it made more food available to the public, and because costs were less to can the food, these savings were also passed along to the public.
Food Processing Develops
Canning is only one element of food processing, and real food processing could not have developed without French scientist Louis Pasteur, who discovered pasteurization, another form of food preservation. Pasteur discovered food did not spoil because of air, which most scientists and food packagers believed at the time. They felt if they removed the air from the packages (cans and bottles) that food would not spoil. Pasteur found that the real culprits to spoilage were yeasts and bacteria that grew on the food the longer it was unprocessed. This discovery opened up the way to develop many more food processing technologies, from pressure canning to the hot and cold pack methods. The pressure method cooked food in a vessel with steam instead of water. In 1874, Andrew K. Shriver, pioneered a closed steam-kettle cooker, which cooked at high pressure and reduced the cooking time of the food.
The cold pack method placed refrigerated food into the jars and cans for packing, but this created longer cooking times, because it took longer for the food to boil. Later, the food was heated before it went into the packaging, reducing the processing time. All of these new innovations worked, but none of them was perfect. Canners still had problems with bursting cans, until a young scientist and professor solved the problems with fermentation in canning. His name was Henry L. Russell. Russell discovered the food inside cans could still ferment, causing bursting cans and spoiled food. Russell found if the food was heated to 242 degrees Fahrenheit, and the food was cooked fifteen more minutes, the fermentation would no longer occur. He published a paper on the cure in 1895, and the canning industry went on to become one of the biggest food processing industries in America, with numerous more solutions during the twentieth century.
Refrigeration -- Another Food Process
People new ice and cold would help preserve food, but in the nineteenth century, they had few opportunities to freeze or refrigerate food. Some people used cellars or basements, which were usually cooler, to store root vegetables and some other foods to keep them from spoiling. People also used ice when it was available. However, scientists and food experts knew keeping food cold could allow it to be transported and kept at home for longer periods. The first refrigerated railroad cars were created after the Civil War. These first cars were rudimentary, simply wooden railroad cars with a box in the middle…[continue]
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