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04.12.19

Great Moments in Food History

Author: Apeel Team

While we work on creating a more sustainable future by innovating new methods to preserve food, we must all first take a look back before we move forward. As a matter of fact, we’re actually pretty fond of looking back and seeing how far we’ve come as humans, who have always been adopting the most effective methods of food preservation possible. Long ago, our ancestors discovered that submerging meat in icy streams allowed it to stay fresh longer. Preserving fruits and vegetables by sun drying became popular around 12,000 BCE, as humans began settling down into farming societies.

Curing meat and fish with salt was the preservation method du jour from the Middle Ages through the 1700s—despite any detrimental effects on the diner's blood pressure. Other approaches throughout time to make food last longer:  pickling, fermentation, smoking, and even burying.

Although these early food preservation methods were effective for their time, the food science breakthroughs during the 19th-century changed the way we eat today. Nicolas Appert won a cash prize of 12,000 francs from the French government in 1810 for his invention of canning, which addressed the food preservation needs of Napoleon's vast armies. Another pioneering Frenchman, Louis Pasteur, demonstrated in the mid-1800s that heating beer and wine prevented them from going sour, a process that bears his name today. Although initially applied to wine and beer, Pasteur's discovery of how bacteria and other microbes cause food to spoil is the basis of what became known as  pasteurization for dairy products, increasing their shelf life and preventing serious transmissible illnesses. Pasteurization is now used to increase the shelf life of fruit and vegetable juices, dairy, and canned goods.

Louis Pasteur

Fast forward to the 1920s: Clarence Birdseye developed his "quick freeze machine" in New York after watching the local Inuit fishing during the winter in the Canadian Arctic. He noticed that the fish quickly froze in the icy weather, and after trying the technique himself, he realized that flash-freezing led to improved texture in the food when it thawed. His flash-freezing technique brought vegetables to the masses in the 20th century, as home refrigeration spread throughout the developed world (maybe you recognize that last name from a bag of frozen peas?).

That brings us to the present. Apeel is now writing a new chapter in food history with our plant-derived technology for reducing food waste. Besides dramatically delaying the spoilage of harvested fruits and vegetables, our plant-derived technology helps solve modern environmental problems.

The company was started in 2012 by James Rogers, then earning his Ph.D. in materials science from the University of California - Santa Barbara. Having previously researched the microscopically thin barrier that protects stainless steel from rusting, he reasoned that food might be preserved from decay in a similar manner.

Rogers’ team eventually invented a method for using materials found in plants—skins, peels, and seeds—to extend the shelf-life of produce. By applying these ingredients onto the surface of fruits and vegetables, an edible “extra peel” could be created that would reduce moisture loss and oxidation, the root causes of food spoilage. Our protective layer is completely edible, composed of materials already found in the human diet.

By extending shelf life with or without refrigeration, Apeel enables a new wave of benefits for growers, packers, distributors, and retailers—with products for both organic and conventional produce The technology also helps the environment by conserving the water and energy used to grow and transport produce. That is because when food rots prior to consumption, all the inputs are wasted as well. Even worse, the spoiled food ends up in overburdened landfills, which are major emitters of greenhouse gases.

Whether the best practice of food preservation was storing rice in clay pots, burying something in the ground, or coating apples with beeswax, the basic aim has not changed drastically over the ages. Humans simply want their food to last longer.  We still do, maybe now more than ever, with food often traveling around the world before it touches a plate, and with a rapidly growing global population that needs to be fed. 

Take note, food historians: Apeel's landmark idea of using the same ingredients present in fruits and vegetables  to make these foods last longer marks a groundbreaking chapter in food tech innovation. Apeel is earning its place in the food preservation pantheon as a delicious, nutritious revolution for the 21st century. 

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