The Evolution of Food Processing Equipment

Mincing, macerating, liquefying, emulsifying, cooking, pickling, pasteurizing, preserving, and packaging. Those are all tasks done by processing equipment in the transformation of raw ingredients, by physical or chemical means, into snack food that is fit for consumption.

Let’s take a look back through the history of food processing and the evolution it has taken from the simple hermetic bottling techniques of the early 1800s all the way to the modern, highly efficient machines of today.

The Crude Processing of Prehistoric Ages

Dating back to the prehistoric ages, although the processes used for preserving food were crude, they worked well enough for the needs at the time.

Basic methods of preservation included sun drying, fermenting (the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat), and various cooking methods such as roasting, smoking, and steaming.

Archeological Evidence From Ancient Civilizations

The existence of salt preservation during ancient times are evidenced in the writings of the Greek, Chaldean, Egyptian, and Roman civilizations as well as from other parts of the world. Drawing out the moisture that causes decay, salted meat was commonly used for feeding warriors and sailors who didn’t have access to fresh produce and meats.

Developments of the19th Century

Hermetic bottling techniques were invented in 1809 by a French chef, confectioner, and distiller by the name of Nicolas Appert. “Using corked-glass containers reinforced with wire and sealing wax and kept in boiling water” gave the ability to preserve soups, fruits, and dairy products among other foods. He won a 12,000-franc award for his method which he used to establish the first commercial cannery in 1812.

Appert also helped develop the bouillon tablet (dehydrated stock), devised an alkaline gelatin extraction method, and perfected an autoclave (a strong, heated container used for chemical reactions using high pressures and temperatures, e.g., steam sterilization).

Canned goods first appeared during this time but were somewhat hazardous due to the lead used in the cans. The patent for this method was granted by King George III to Peter Durand in 1810. By 1818, The Royal Navy was using nearly 24,000 large cans on its ships each year. The canned vegetables were a great relief to sailors who were often plagued by scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C in salt-cured foods.

Another big step in the processing evolution came in 1864 with the discovery of pasteurization by Louis Pasteur. This method uses heat to destroy pathogens in milk, juice, wine, and beer.

The Rising Consumer Society of the 20th Century

Between the soldiers’ needs during both World Wars and the economic boost that occurred afterward, demand for processed foods increased dramatically. The rise of a busy, consumeristic society increased the production of convenience foods.

The following methods were developed to aid in the advancement of food processing and preserving:

  • Frozen foods that can be defrosted and microwaved

  • Spray drying (quickly evaporating a solvent uniformly over food)

  • Freeze drying (rapidly freezing food and then subjecting it to a high vacuum to remove ice)

  • Dried, instant soup mixes

  • Juice concentrates (the removal of water)

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Coloring agents

  • Sodium benzoate as a preservative

The Modern Machines of Today

Today, high-speed, highly efficient modern machines are used to process the bulk of the world’s food. By carefully measuring, chopping, mixing, coating, and packaging food items, the equipment functions as a self-contained unit that effectively minimizes labor and waste.

From toxin and defect removal to preservation and proper packaging, processing equipment ensures food is safe to be eaten by the masses, even after long delivery and storage durations. Because of cutting-edge technology, APEC’s food processing equipment has enabled production to speed up faster than ever before.

For more information on food processing equipment, contact APEC today.