What I Wrote Today and Why #6
More on cans today. Nicholas Appert’s discovery of sterilization as a way to preserve food was a foundational innovation. Cans and can production technologies followed as inventors experimented with heat, metal, and machinery to process food for longer durations before consumption. Seems his “revolutionary” idea came during the aftermath of the French Revolution when the salt tax was repealed and getting food to the citizens became a public priority. Turning his idea from glass to tin was a British idea, fueled by a different revolution, the Industrial Revolution.
After Appert’s death, and he died poor (no patent, no money), others came along with ideas for making cans and … by 1866, a can opener. Some discoveries take fifty years to come to fruition, it seems.
Preserving food in tin cans attracted the attention of entrepreneurs in Britain and the U.S. during the Civil War. Like France, both sides of the American conflict wanted to feed their armies so they could remain in the field. Experiments for condensing food, like milk and soup, emerged as a way to package food without the additional liquid weight.
The idea of food technologies that not only preserve by lessen the weight of food must relate in some way to the cost of transport. The connection between lighter food and lower fuel costs may have been an incentive for these early inventors. Hard to tell. And without refrigeration, the need for speed and fuel weighed heavily upon the ability to send food around the globe without spoilage.
Seems there’s a lot more to explore about canning and other food packaging technologies. It’s intriguing to note that when canned food appeared, it became mysterious. Consumers began to demand labels and certification that would verify the contents of the can. The loss of transparency in the food supply chain may have begun with the tin can.