What is Canning?
Canning is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a shelf life typically ranging from one to five years, although under specific circumstances it can be much longer. A freeze-dried canned product, such as canned dried lentils (beans or legumes), could last as long as 30 years in an edible state. In 1974, samples of canned food from the wreck of the Bertrand, a steamboat that sank in the Missouri River in 1865, were tested by the National Food Processors Association. Although appearance, smell and vitamin content had deteriorated, there was no trace of microbial growth and the 109 year-old food was determined to be still safe to eat.
In 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. Nicolas Appert suggested canning, and the process was first proven in 1806 in tests conducted by the French navy. Appert was awarded the prize in 1810 by Count Montelivert, a French minister of the interior.The packaging prevents microorganisms from entering and proliferating inside.
To prevent the food from being spoiled before and during containment, a number of methods are used: pasteurisation, boiling (and other applications of high temperature over a period of time), refrigeration, freezing, drying, vacuum treatment, antimicrobial agents that are natural to the recipe of the foods being preserved, a sufficient dose of ionizing radiation, submersion in a strong saline solution, acid, base, osmotically extreme (for example very sugary) or other microbially-challenging environments.
Other than sterilization, no method is perfectly dependable as a preservative. For example, the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (which causes botulism), can only be eliminated at temperatures above the boiling point.
From a public safety point of view, foods with low acidity (a pH more than 4.6) need sterilization under high temperature (116-130 °C). To achieve temperatures above the boiling point requires the use of a pressure canner. Foods that must be pressure canned include most vegetables, meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy products. The only foods that may be safely canned in an ordinary boiling water bath are highly acidic ones with a pH below 4.6, such as fruits, pickled vegetables, or other foods to which acidic additives have been added.
History of Canning:
During the first years of the Napoleonic Wars, the French government offered a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food. The larger armies of the period required increased and regular supplies of quality food. Limited food availability was among the factors limiting military campaigns to the summer and autumn months. In 1809, Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner and brewer, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars. The reason for lack of spoilage was unknown at the time, since it would be another 50 years before Louis Pasteur demonstrated the role of microbes in food spoilage. However, glass containers presented challenges for transportation.
Glass jars were largely replaced in commercial canneries with cylindrical tin or wrought-iron canisters (later shortened to “cans”) following the work of Peter Durand (1810). Cans are cheaper and quicker to make, and much less fragile than glass jars. Glass jars have remained popular for some high-value products and in home canning. Can openers were not invented for another thirty years — at first, soldiers had to cut the cans open with bayonets or smash them open with rocks. The French Army began experimenting with issuing canned foods to its soldiers, but the slow process of canning foods and the even slower development and transport stages prevented the army from shipping large amounts across the French Empire, and the war ended before the process was perfected. Unfortunately for Appert, the factory which he had built with his prize money was razed in 1814 by Allied soldiers invading France.
Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the canning process was gradually employed in other European countries and in the US.