Back in grade school, Louis Pasteur was one of those names attached to some long-ago discoveries, the explanation of which you just knew was going to re-appear on the final exam. But when you’re 10 years old, it’s pretty tough to appreciate the incredible quantum leap forward that a long-ago dead guy contributed to the progress of humanity, even as you were sucking down a carton of milk at lunch time that wouldn’t have been safe to drink without Pasteur’s ground-breaking research.
He was truly a legend in the long, 1,000-year war by which science finally supplanted superstition as the explanation for infectious disease, a remarkably gifted researcher who —literally — wrote the book on microbial pathogens: “Germ Theory and Its Applications to Medicine & On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery,” for which his co-author was Joseph Lister, the British physician who pioneered the concept of antiseptic surgery in the 1890s, using carbolic acid to sterilize surgical instruments and cleanse wounds.
Are you kidding me? That would be like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino collaborating on a book titled, “How to Create Effective Characterization in Cinematic Productions.”
Pasteur's phenomenal contributions to microbiology also included the discovery that weakened forms of a microorganism could be used to immunize people against virulent forms of the pathogen, and he developed techniques to vaccinate dogs against rabies,as well as treat humans bitten by rabid dogs.
All that was accomplished in additionto developing pasteurization, the process by which harmful pathogens in perishable foods are inactivatedby using heat below the boiling point, which destroys the microbes without destroying the food product itself.
Being French, of course, Pasteur first applied his theory to wine, demonstrating that heating it to about 130 °F for a few minutes preserved the flavor while ridding the wine of spoilage organisms.His process was soon applied to milk and remains to this day the keyto the production and marketing of the dairy products that we simply take for granted are totally safe to consume without any food-safety concerns beyond occasionally sniffing that expired carton of 2% in the back of the fridge and realizing that its time has come and gone.
The advent of new technology
Why is all this relevant? Because pasteurization, with its incredible potential to impact food safety, may soon be coming to the meat and poultry industries.