Refrigeration Named Most Significant Invention in Food History
Oct 5, 2012
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The Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, named refrigeration the No. 1 most significant invention in the history of food and drink. Some relatively modern appliances were in the Top 20 along with inventions that have been around for centuries, such as barrels, fishing nets, and the knife.

The list came about from a project in which a steering group of Royal Society Fellows reduced a list of about 100 innovations down to just 20. The shortlist was then voted on by Fellows of the Society and experts in the food and drink industry, who judged each innovation on four criteria: accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health.

Other appliances in the Top 20 included the oven - a designation assumed to include more ancient, foraged-fuel-burning ovens - a well as the unambiguously modern microwave oven.

The Royal Society said the Top 3 items on the list - refrigeration, pasteurization/sterilization, and canning - were all Anglo-French scientific achievements in the 18th and 19th centuries. The society reported that:
* artificial refrigeration was first demonstrated in Glasgow in 1748 and produced commercially in 1805
* the first pasteurization test was completed in France in 1862
* a British merchant patented the tin can in 1810 (although a year earlier a Frenchman applied a similar process with glass jars and cork)

The steering group was chaired by Royal Society Treasurer Sir Peter Williams FRS.

"Royal Society Fellows have played vital roles in improving people's lives for 350 years and science has a major role to play in meeting the global challenges of the 21st century," said Sir Williams. "We thought it appropriate to look at how that innovation has shaped what we eat and drink. The poll reveals the huge role science and innovation have played in improving our health and our lives. This is something to which the scientific community continues to add."

The Royal Society's Top 20 Most Significant Inventions in the History of Food and Drink:

1. refrigeration
2. pasteurization / sterilization
3. canning
4. the oven
5. irrigation
6. threshing machine/combine harvester
7. baking
8. selective breeding / strains
9. grinding / milling
10. the plough
11. fermentation
12. the fishing net
13. crop rotation
14. the pot
15. the knife
16. eating utensils
17. the cork
18. the barrel
19. the microwave oven
20. frying

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