Appert’s theory as to the cause of the spoiling of food was incorrect, but his method of preserving it by sealing and cooking was correct, and the world owes him a debt of gratitude.
In their investigations scientists have found that if food is perfectly sterilized and the opening of the jar or bottle plugged with sterilized cotton, food will not ferment, for the bacteria and yeasts to which such changes are due cannot pass through the cotton. This method cannot be conveniently followed with large jars.
Bacteria and yeasts exist in the air, in the soil, and on all vegetable and animal substances, and even in the living body, but although of such universal occurrence, the true knowledge of their nature and economic importance has only been gained during the last forty years.
There are a great many kinds of these micro-organisms. Some do great harm, but it is thought that the greater part of them are benenficial rather than injurious.
Bacteria are one-celled and so small they can only be seen by aid of a microscope. The process of reproduction is simple and rapid. The bacterium becomes constricted, divides, and finally there are two cells instead of one. Under favorable conditions each cell divides, and so rapid is the work that it has been estimated that one bacterium may give rise, within twenty-four hours, to seventeen millions of similar organisms. The favorable conditions for growth are moisture, warmth, and proper food.
Yeasts, which are also one-celled organisms, grow less rapidly. A bud develops, breaks off, and forms a new yeast plant. Some yeasts and some kinds of bacteria produce spores. Spores, like the dried seeds of plants, may retain their vitality for a long time, even when exposed to conditions which kill the parent organism.
Yeasts and nearly all bacteria require oxygen, but there are species of the latter that seem to grow equally well without it, so that the exclusion of air, which, of course, contains oxygen, is not always a protection, if one of the anaerobic bacteria, as the kinds are called which do not require oxygen, is sealed in the can.
Spoiling of food is caused by the development of bacteria or yeasts. Certain chemical changes are produced as shown by gases, odors, and flavors.
Bacteria grow luxuriantly in foods containing a good deal of nitrogenous material, if warmth and moisture are present. Among foods rich in nitrogenous substances are all kinds of meat, fish, eggs, peas, beans, lentils, milk, etc. These foods are difficult to preserve on account of the omnipresent bacteria. This is seen in warm, muggy weather, when fresh meat, fish, soups, milk, etc., spoil quickly. Bacteria do not develop in substances containing a large percentage of sugar, but they grow rapidly in a suitable wet substance which contains a small percentage of sugar.
Here is the original 1905 page:
Here is video on the art of fermentation: