The practice of food preservation is as old as history itself. Even the earliest humans used methods such as drying, fermentation and salting to make food last longer. This preserved food was used to get them through harsh winters when food was scarce, or to provide sustenance on long journeys.
The earliest records of deliberate food preservation date back as far as the ancient Egyptians, who dried grain and stored it in sealed silos. This grain was kept successfully for years as insurance against famine when the Nile River flooded.
The ancient Chinese used fermentation to preserve vegetables, and records show the Romans preserved white cabbage in earthenware pots in the first Century AD. Salting as a way to preserve food was so important to the Romans that soldiers actually received “salarium” – or salt – as payment. This is the origin of today’s word, “salary.”
Food Preservation That Does What It Says On The Tin
Fast-forward to more modern times, and preserving food in cans became hugely popular after Napoleon offered a substantial financial reward to anyone to could come up with a method for preserving food to send to his troops on the front. Initially, glass champagne bottles were used, followed by wide necked glass jars. Sealing food in tin cans soon followed.
Canning became a way to eliminate oxygen and preserve food for, literally, years! In 1974, for example, scientists from the US National Food Processors Association opened and tested the contents of tinned peaches, tomatoes and oysters that had been retrieved from the wreck of the steamboat Bertrand, which had sunk in the Missouri River over a hundred years previously.
The tests revealed that, although the food had lost its fresh smell and appearance, there was no microbial growth, making the food as safe to eat when it was first canned a century before.
Canning is obviously an effective way to preserve food for long periods of time, but it is expensive and it does affect the taste and texture of fruit and vegetables (think fresh strawberries vs tinned ones, for example).
The Introduction of Modified Atmosphere Packaging
Modified atmosphere packaging has its origins in Australia and New Zealand in the 1930s, when cow and sheep carcasses were stored in carbon dioxide to help maintain freshness before being shipped to the UK. In the 1940 and ‘50s, fresh pears and apples were placed in an enclosed warehouse, and the natural respiration of the fruit reduced the oxygen levels and increased the carbon dioxide levels, which in turned slowed the respiration and increased the longevity of the produce by up to six months.
In the 1970s, food producers began experimenting with modified atmosphere packages for meat and fish, but today, it is used to pack anything from fresh salads, sandwiches and snacks to meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
At Mapflex, we are proud to be taking modified atmosphere packaging into the future, benefiting from extensive and ongoing research at our partner laboratories in Europe. Chat to us about how you can use Modified Atmosphere Packaging to increase the shelf-life of your fresh produce by up to 50%.