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20th century marks achievements in food science and technology

Institute of Food Technologists

CHICAGO--Reflecting upon this century, numerous achievements were made in food science and technology, which greatly enhanced the safety and/or quality of foods. Among many innovations, the following stand out as some of the best things prior to and since sliced bread in the 1930s:

1900s: Vacuum packaging, which removes the atmosphere from food packages, invented to prolong the shelf life of foods. Hydrogenation process invented to keep unsaturated fats from turning rancid. U.S. and British patents issued for proposed use of killing bacteria in food with ionizing radiation (1905). Fruit first commercially frozen in the United States and fish freezing widely practiced. Freezing (turning all water in foods to ice) results in greatly extended shelf life and negligible nutrient losses.

1910s: First large-scale commercial pasta production in the United States.

1920s: Clarence Birdseye develops quick-freezing processes for foods and first commercializes blanched frozen vegetables. Blanching vegetables prior to freezing shuts off enzymes that cause off-colors and flavors to develop, enhancing the quality of frozen vegetables when thawed. Food fortification begins by fortifying table salt with iodine (1924).

1930s: Freeze-drying process (quick-freezing followed by drying under high vacuum conditions at a low temperature) invented to preserve food. Vitamin D first added to milk through ultraviolet radiation (1933).

1940s: Mass production of food using automation takes off. Concentrated, frozen, and dehydrated foods, such as frozen concentrated citrus juices, produced in mass quantities for shipping overseas to the military. Flour first fortified with vitamins and iron (1940). Aseptic processing and packaging (high-temperature, short-time sterilization of a food and its container independently, then the filling of the container with the product in a sterile atmosphere) is developed, increasing food quality, safety, and retention of nutrients.

1950s: Controlled-atmosphere packaging (CAP) developed to increase the shelf life of fresh foods. CAP controls oxygen and carbon dioxide in the packaging environment to limit produce respiration and ethylene production, thereby delaying ripening and spoilage. In 1953, U.S. Army begins food irradiation program and James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins discover the double-helix structure of DNA, laying the foundation for understanding genetics and developing recombinant DNA technology.

1960s: First commercial plant for freeze-drying food opens (1960) and freeze-dried coffee enters the marketplace. Freeze-drying involves rapid deep-freezing, followed by sublimation of water by heating the frozen product in a vacuum chamber. Freeze-drying preserves food, but retains its original flavor, aroma, size, shape, and texture when rehydrated. Computer control in processing plants first introduced, improving product quality and efficiency. FDA approves irradiation to disinfest wheat and wheat flour (1963), to inhibit sprouting in potatoes (1964), and to extend the shelf life of potatoes (1965). Aseptic canning adopted by food manufacturers.

1970s: Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system jointly developed by the National Aeronautics Space Administration, Pillsbury Co., and U.S. Army Natick Laboratories to enhance the safety and quality of processed foods for astronauts. Recombinant DNA technology developed (1973).

1980s: Modified-atmosphere packaging (modifies the internal package atmosphere by flushing it with nitrogen gas) introduced to increase shelf life of foods and protect them from spoilage, oxidation, dehydration, weight loss, and freezer burn. Aseptic processing and packaging widely adopted in the United States. FDA approves irradiation to control Trichinella spiralis in pork (1985), to disinfest and/or delay ripening in some fresh fruits and vegetables (1986), and to control microorganisms in spices and herbs (1986).

1990s: HACCP becomes widely adopted by food manufacturers, in part because it is mandated by the FDA for fish and fishery products (1995) and by the USDA for meat and poultry products (1996). FDA approves irradiation to control harmful bacteria in fresh and frozen poultry (1990) and red meats (1997). Pasteurization process for shell eggs, ohmic heating (passes an electrical current through food to heat it rapidly to a sterilizing temperature), and flash pasteurization (rapid heating and cooling) of fresh juices commercially applied to enhance safety and quality of foods. High pressure processing (uses hydrostatic pressure of 50,000 to 100,000 psi) is commercially applied to fresh packaged foods (1998) to kill spoilage microorganisms without altering flavor, appearance or nutritional value. Steam pasteurization and vacuuming of beef carcasses introduced to reduce microbial hazards. The rDNA-engineered enzyme, chymosin, replaces rennet in most cheese production because it is produced in mass quantities with more consistent quality and purity. First rDNA-engineered plant food, a tomato with delayed ripening, commercially introduced (1994). Active packaging systems that interact with package contents or the package's internal atmosphere are developed to enhance product freshness. Not-from-concentrate citrus juices commercialized. Grain products first fortified with folic acid (1998) and orange juice with calcium.

Some significant achievements of the century span several decades, such as food enrichment (nutrients lost in processing added back to food) and fortification (addition of nutrients not originally present in foods) to help deliver key nutrients to consumers and safe canning practices. Although Nicholas Appert developed the canning process between 1775 and 1810, it has been within the last 60 years that food scientists have determined thermal processes needed for the safe canning of specific vegetables. Safe canning results in commercially sterile products with long shelf life.


This chronology was derived in part by the September 1989 issue of Food Technology, a publication of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

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