Preservation of Food

Nicolas Appert was the 9th of 11 children born to a family who owned an inn in France. He became a chef as a trade. French armies were engaged all over Europe and were vexed by the problem of supplying food for its soldiers. Food would spoil resulting in soldiers getting sick. The French government offered a prize for someone who could devise a way to preserve food.

Nicolas had the idea that food could be placed in a jar, and the jar would then be sealed and placed in boiling water. A vacuum would be created to prevent bacteria from spoiling the food. While Nicolas had no scientific background, the process he developed worked. It took 14 years of experimenting to achieve the results needed to win the prize money. Nicolas then wrote a book on his process, and it became a best seller since all families could use the process he outlined.

Using the prize money and his book revenues, he set up a canning factory for soldiers. While the canning factory continued to stay in operation for 100 years, Nicolas was a poor businessman and went bankrupt.

Nicolas did his canning with glass bottles. Later a British inventor, Peter Durand, developed a canning process using a tin can. While the names Nicolas Appert and Peter Durand are virtually unknown to us today, their work in the preservation of food is one of the greatest public health advances of all time. It was 50 years later that Louis Pasteur described the science behind the canning process that Nicolas Appert developed.

Hidden heroes do not always benefit from the changes they create. In some cases, the hidden heroes want to see the widespread usage of their innovations and do not seek financial rewards. There are cases where the world of hidden heroes is usurped by others. And there are cases where the hidden hero is just not capable of taking the idea forward.

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“Food that is necessary for man’s existence is as sacred as life itself. Everything that is indispensable for its preservation is the common property of society as a whole.”– Maximilian Robespierre (French lawyer and statesman)

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