The Evolution of Food Safety and Laboratory Sanitation

For much of recorded history, humans have tried to find ways to make their food last longer and to keep it safe from pests and spoilage. It only makes sense, because food safety and (in turn) laboratory sanitation leads to healthier people and protects a precious and at times limited commodity — food. However, refrigerators and freezers as we know them, as well as most chemical sanitation supplies, have only been in existence for the past 150 years or so. For long before this era of refrigeration, food has been saved and preserved in one way or another. This means that many other low-tech methods have been used through the ages to keep food safe and fresh.

We have put together a brief guide to how food safety and laboratory sanitation has evolved through the years. While the biggest evolutions have, of course, been developed over the past century or so, developing an understanding of those earlier techniques will give you an elevated appreciation for what we can do today and our heightened safety when it comes to food, beverage and medical products.

Food Safety Before Refrigeration

Commercial refrigeration didn’t come into play until the 1800s, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been ways to keep food and other products safe. Even the earliest humans noticed a connection between eating spoiled food and getting sick. Just in recorded history, we've learned that Confucius warned against eating “sour rice” and that the early Egyptians developed a product suspiciously similar to a grain silo, which kept grain dry and at a reasonable temperature so that it could last longer and be used long after it was harvested.

The ancient Romans may have been the first to salt-cure their food, or at least the first who have a record of doing so. Salting down food dries it out, and dry food doesn’t grow bacteria as easily as moist food does. While the Romans may not have understood all the details behind what they did, they couldn't ignore the results.

Another early accomplishment was learning that food kept cold would last longer than food left in the heat. While earlier humans didn't have refrigerators, they did have access to water (in the forms of creeks or rivers), and in some cases ice and snow. Utilizing these nearby sources was key to helping people keep their food fresh.

Once the microscope was invented, real advances in food safety became a possibility. Scientists understood that germs and microorganisms led to sickness. This led to such inventions as pasteurization as a means of removing the unhealthy “additives” to food and drink.

Food Sanitation With Refrigeration

By the 1800s, so much was known about food safety that there was a surge of interest by families to keep their food cool at home. The first form of commercial refrigeration was called the ice box.

An ice box was an insulated metal “box” that was used to keep ice and the foods and beverages the family wished to keep cold. It did the job, but the ice would eventually melt and needed to be replaced on a regular basis. Not only was this expensive at times, but it was also inconvenient. Many people felt there must be a better way to keep food cool and safe than to constantly need to reload the ice box with fresh ice.

Scientists such as John Gorrie and Alexander Twining contributed knowledge towards the common goal of creating a refrigerator that was “self-cooling.” While these refrigerators have changed in shape, look and features through the years, the ultimate goal has remained the same — to keep food fresh and safe to eat for as long as possible.

Government Regulations

As food safety was just becoming a priority in the past few centuries, there were initially few standards or regulations in place regarding the processing or selling of food. In the past, meat-processing facilities were not sanitary places and could cause less-than-clean product to make its way to consumers. Author Upton Sinclair went undercover in the processing world to write the book “The Jungle,” which helped bring these conditions to light. This book not only showed the inside of a working factory, but it made many people realize the dangers of tainted meat and other products.

In the mid-1800s, Abraham Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Chemistry. These would eventually grow to become the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. This organization has continued to support standards in food manufacturing and distribution not only in the United States, but around the world.

Today, this organization is tasked with monitoring our food supply and making certain that manufacturers follow specific minimum standards that allow all people to feel confident in the food they eat on a daily basis.

Learn About Weber Scientific

Clean food, water and medical products are something everyone deserves, but they aren’t always readily available. Finding new ways to ensure this safety and implementing it in an affordable and manageable manner is a worldwide concern.

Keeping food and other ingestible products safe and clean for everyone should always be a top priority. We encourage you to learn more about Weber Scientific and our superior selection of products for dairy and food testing. From bacteriological testing to laboratory sanitation products, our goal is to keep consumers around the world safe and to build confidence in the foods we eat, the beverages we drink and the medicines used to cure our sick. Call us directly to place an order or to talk to an expert about the many products we carry.