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Canning and Preserving Industry Workers


As soon as people learned to grow and harvest food, they faced the problem of keeping that food from spoiling so that it could last until the next harvest. Centuries ago, people discovered that salting, drying, and pickling could preserve many meats, fruits, and vegetables. In colonial America, most of this preserving was done in the home. Families grew their own fruits and vegetables and preserved them to make them last through the winter months.

In 1795, the French government sought better ways to feed its army, especially ways to keep foods from spoiling, and it offered a prize to anyone who could develop a method of keeping foods edible and portable for a long period of time. Nicolas Appert, a chef in Paris, took up the challenge and developed the first canning process. In 1810, Appert developed a system of bottling foods, corking the bottles and holding the corks in place with wire, and then heating the bottles. At the same time in England, the first tin-coated metal cans were developed, and these were soon applied to food preservation using Appert's method. Appert's process became known as canning.

Since the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the 20th century, advances in refrigeration and sanitation and new applications of many industrial processes of food preparation have almost completely transferred the business of preserving food to large factories. Freezing was applied to food preservation in the 1920s, and ways were sought to freeze foods as quickly as possible, thereby preserving not only their flavor but also their nutritional value. Scientists also discovered that certain chemicals could preserve food by killing off microorganisms or preventing them from reproducing. Later, irradiation became another, albeit controversial, method of food preservation.

Very few Americans today grow and preserve large quantities of their own food, and factory-preserved fruits, fish, soup, and vegetables are found in almost every refrigerator and kitchen cupboard in the nation. Canning and preservation techniques have made it possible for people to enjoy foods from all over the world, and at all times of the year.

For much of the past century, canning and preserving were labor-intensive; that is, they required many people to manually perform the various steps of processing, preserving, and packaging foods. In recent years, automated machinery and equipment, which are often computer-controlled, have greatly increased the quantity of foods that can be processed and have made it possible for many foods to be processed, canned, and preserved without ever being touched by human hands.

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