When most people hear the name Louis Pasteur mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the pasteurization process that is named after him. The truth is pasteurization is just one of the many things Pasteur gifted the world with. Born in 1822 in France, Pasteur received his early education in Arbois before moving to Paris where he received his doctorate in chemistry in 1847.
At the age of 27, Pasteur was a chemistry professor in Strasbourg, and at the same time he embarked on a study to understand fermentation. Fermentation, a process which involves break down of organic materials, had long been used in the brewing industry even before it was fully understood scientifically. Pasteur specialized in bacteriology and studied the growth and reproduction in microorganisms. Through his studies, Pasteur further disputed the theory of spontaneous generation which had put forth the theory that living things could develop directly from non-living things.
Pasteur became the first scientist to show that microorganisms were capable of growing in sterilized broth, but only if this broth had been exposed to the reproductive cells of the said microorganisms, leading to the development of the cell theory of the origin of living matter. Pasteur further put forward the theory that although bacteria could grow almost everywhere, their growth and spread could be controlled.
It is from this knowledge that the pasteurization process was born. While continuing his scientific studies in the 1860’s, Pasteur discovered that the reason wine could turn bitter was because certain microbes are able to enter the wine while it was being made. The solution to this was to apply a controlled amount of heat which killed the microbes without tampering with the flavor of the wine. This use of heat to kill microbes and consequently, preserve food, came to be known as pasteurization. Its use extended to milk, beer and food as well.
Pasteur’s discovery of the roots of food and beverage spoilage was revolutionary in contributing to modern day food safety. It is only by correctly identifying the cause of the problem that steps can be taken to ensure elimination of those threats. Indeed, some have referred to Pasteur as the foundation stone of the food safety industry. Currently, all milk sold in stores today is pasteurized, and consumers no longer have to worry about bitter wine.
Many years after Pasteur’s death in 1895, his contributions to the scientific world continue to be felt and appreciated. And for every safe food product that can be attributed to him, we, as consumers, should be extremely grateful.