The Discovery of Canning

During the late eighteenth century the French army was suffering from scurvy, malnour-ishment, and outright starvation, and the French government offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could discover a way to preserve food for the troops. Nicholas Appert, a candymaker, brewer, and baker, reasoned that he should be able to preserve food in bottles, like wine. After fourteen years of experimentation, he finally discovered that if he put food in glass jars reinforced with wire, sealed them with wax, and applied heat, the food didn't spoil. Appert was presented with the 12,000-franc prize by Napoleon himself. However, the secret of preserved food soon leaked to the English, who proceeded to invent the can, and the armies that faced off at Waterloo were both fortified by preserved rations.

—Paula Kepos in 1990 after it was implicated in the development of thyroid tumors in male rats. However, the cancer risk associated with FD&C Red No. 3 is about 1 in 100,000 over a seventy-year lifetime, and its use in some foods, such as candies and maraschino cherries, is still allowed. Tartrazine (FD&C Yellow No. 5) has been found to cause dermatological reactions ranging from itching to hives in a small population subgroup. Given the mild nature of the reaction, however, it still may be used in foods.

Nitrites are also a controversial additive. When used in combination with salt, nitrites serve as antimicrobials and add flavor and color to meats. However, nitrite salts can react with certain amines in food to produce ni-trosamines, many of which are known carcinogens. Food manufacturers must show that nitrosamines will not form in harmful amounts, or will be prevented from forming, in their products. The flavoring enhancer MSG is another controversial food additive. MSG is made commercially from a natural fermentation process using starch and sugar. Despite anecdotal reports of MSG triggering headaches or exacerbating asthma, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the European Community's Scientific Committee for Food, the American Medical Association, and the National Academy of Sciences have all affirmed the safety of MSG at normal consumption levels.

In the United States, food additives and preservatives play an important role in ensuring that the food supply remains the safest and most abundant in the world. A major task of the FDA is to regulate the use and approval of thousands of approved food additives, and to evaluate their safety. Despite consumer concern about use of food additives and preservatives, there is very little scientific evidence that they are harmful at the levels at which they are used.

In Europe, food additives and preservatives are evaluated by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food. Regulations in European Union countries are similar to those in the United States. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives work together to evaluate the safety of food additives, as well as contaminants, naturally occurring toxicants, and residues of veterinary drugs in foods. Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs) are established on the basis of toxicology and other information. see also Artificial Sweeteners; Fat Substitutes.

M. Elizabeth Kunkel Barbara H. D. Luccia


Branen, A. Larry (2002). Food Additives, 2nd edition. New York: Marcel Dekker.

Clydesdale, Fergus M. (1997). Food Additives: Toxicology, Regulation, and Properties. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Potter, Norman N., and Hotchkiss, Joseph H. (1995) Food Science, 5th edition. New York: Chapman & Hall.

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