The other day my wife asked me to retrieve some canned goods from the basement cupboard and I was reminded of the many trips I made to the fruit cellar as a child.
There were rows and rows of quart jars filled with vegetables and fruits and meats. It was a beautiful sight seeing all those colors arranged by rows upon the shelves.
I didn’t have a good idea of how much work went into each of those jars until I was older and became part of the process. Today most of our preservation goes into the freezer and it’s just not the same.
I came across the life story of a fellow by the name of Lloyd Hall who had a great interest in food chemistry. Lloyd Hall was born on June 20, 1894 in Elgin, Ill. He was an honor student while attending West Side High School in Aurora, Ill. and captained the school debate team while competing in baseball, football and track.
Lloyd graduated high school in the top 10 of his class and had to choose between four college scholarship offers. He decided to attend nearby Northwestern University, earning a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1916.
While at Northwestern, Hall attended classes with a fellow student named Carrol L. Griffith who would later go on to become founder of Griffith Laboratories.
After graduation, Hall earned a graduate degree from the University of Chicago. Hall was soon hired by the Western Electric Company through a telephone interview. When he showed up for his first day, however, he was told by a personnel officer that they don’t hire African-Americans.
Recovering from this slight, he began working for the Chicago Department of Health as a chemist and was promoted in 1917 to senior chemist.
The following year he moved to Attumwa, Iowa where he held the position of chief chemist at the John Morrell Company. During this time World War I broke out and Hall received an appointment as chief inspector of powder and explosives for the United States Ordnance Department.
Two years later, after marrying, Hall moved to Chicago where he began working for the Boyer Chemical Laboratory where he took the position of chief chemist and focused on the emerging field of food chemistry, and began looking at a way of preserving meats with chemicals.
In 1922 he moved on to Chemical Products Corporation where he served as president and chemical director of their consulting laboratory and often consulted with Griffith Laboratories.
In 1925 Hall was offered a position with Griffith Laboratories as chief chemist and director of research. Hall accepted the position and remained there for the next 34 years.
Hall had been working for a number of years exploring areas of food chemistry and upon joining Griffith Laboratories began looking into methods of preserving foods. Up to that point, foods, and especially meats had been preserved by using sodium chloride (table salt). As well, nitrogen-containing chemicals were also used to preserve meats.
It was found that nitrates chemically changed into nitrites and then into nitrous acid which caused meats to maintain a healthy, red color (the process was referred to as curing meat).
Hall found, however, that when sodium chloride, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite were used in order to preserve and cure meat, that nitrates and nitrites penetrated the meat much faster than did the sodium chloride.
In doing so, the nitrates and nitrites adversely affected the meat by breaking it down before the sodium chloride had a chance to preserve it.
In order to correct this, Hall found a way of encasing the nitrates and nitrites within a sodium chloride “shell” by utilizing a process called “flash-drying” the crystals over heated rollers. This allowed the sodium nitrate to be introduced to the meats first and dissolved and then the nitrates and nitrites were able to penetrate the preserved meat and therefore cure it.
He next addressed a problem which arose when meats were stored in containers. The sodium chloride/nitrate/nitrite combination tended to absorb the moisture from the air inside the container and caused them to form a caked mass on top of the meat.
Hall was able to determine that by adding a glycerine and alkali metal tartrate to the original combination, the glycerine and tartrate would effectively absorb the moisture without caking and thus preventing the chloride/nitrate/nitrite combination from absorbing it.
He also maintained an interest in sterilizing foods, utensils and tools. Although many people thought that certain spices and flavorings also had the added benefit of preserving foods, Hall found that many of these agents actually exposed the foods to an abundance of germs, molds and bacteria.
Hall set out to prevent this while at the same time allowing the spices and flavorings to retain the aroma and color which were often lost when exposed to high sterilizing temperatures.
He eventually found a gas called ethylene oxide, which he introduced to the foods within a vacuumed environment which eliminated the germs and bacteria while maintaining appearances, taste and aroma.
These contributions to food preservation and sterilization revolutionized the way foods were processed, prepared, packed and transported, eliminating spoilage and health hazards and improving efficiency and profitability for food suppliers.
In the course of his work, Hall would publish more than five scientific papers and receive more than 100 patents. He also served as an adviser to the United States during two world wars, served on dozens of advisory panels and boards and received hundreds of awards and accolades.
Hall died in 1971 leaving behind a legacy as a pioneer in the field of food chemistry and is responsible for improving health conditions in all areas of the food industry. Thanks to the lifelong dedication of scientists like Lloyd Hall we can go to the pantry for a can of food and take for granted it is safe.
That’s all for now.