Canned Meats

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Around 1800, a French brewer and confectioner named Nicolas Appert discovered that if he sealed food in a glass container and then heated the container in boiling water, the food would keep indefinitely without spoiling. This was the beginning of canning, a form of preservation in which the food is first isolated from air and external contamination by microbes, and then heated sufficiently to destroy any microbes already in the food. (Pasteur hadn’t yet proven the existence of microbes; Appert simply observed that all “ferments” were destroyed in his process.) When done properly, canning is quite effective: canned meat a century old has been eaten without harm, if also without much pleasure. The canning of meats is almost exclusively an industrial process today, in part because it offers the cook little in the way of desirable flavors or textures.