From Napoleon's Campaigns to Your Kitchen: Celebrating Canned Food Month with a Legacy of Innovation

February is Canned Food Month, a time to appreciate the humble can that revolutionised food preservation and continues to nourish us today. But the story of canned food goes back much further than grocery store aisles – it's a tale of military necessity, scientific ingenuity, and enduring innovation.

Rewinding to the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte, faced the logistical nightmare of feeding his vast army across Europe, offering a hefty prize for a method to preserve food for long periods. In response, Nicolas Appert, a Parisian confectioner experimented with sealing food in glass jars and boiling them. While not quite cans, Appert's technique laid the foundation for the revolutionary preservation method we know today.

Fast forward to the mid-1800s, and William Underwood, an American businessman recognised the potential of Appert's method. He created the first commercially successful canned tomatoes, paving the way for mass production and widespread adoption. But the cans of that era had a major drawback: they often contained harmful bacteria, leading to spoilage and even illness.

The safety and quality of canned food took a quantum leap forward in the early 20th century with the invention of steam retorting. This process, pioneered by companies like Lagarde, uses pressurised steam to sterilise food inside the can, ensuring its safety and extending its shelf life.

Lagarde's patented steam/air retorts, introduced in the 1950s, revolutionised the industry with their efficiency and precision. By combining steam and air in controlled cycles, these retorts achieved faster heating and cooling, ensuring consistent sterilisation while preserving the taste and texture of the food.

Today, thanks to continuous advancements in technology and safety regulations, canned food remains a safe, affordable, and versatile staple in pantries around the world. From hearty soups and vegetables to convenient tuna and beans, canned goods offer a treasure trove of options for quick meals, creative recipes, and emergency preparedness.

Next time you reach for a can, remember – that humble container holds a rich history of ingenuity and a promise of quality that has stood the test of time.

Published 01.02.2024

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