About Cans
Can and the food industry

Nearly 200 billion cans of food are produced in the world each year. When the can was first used as the solution to preserving food for an army at war, it not only supported industrialisation, but also fuelled the globalisation of food.

The can industry is always adapting and innovating, while preserving its core qualities – protection and strength. It has evolved from the early crude tinplate canisters shaped by hand to the lightweight, completely recyclable containers produced mechanically today.

What's more, the can allows us to enjoy food from faraway places, and even from a different time. Exotic food and out-of-season produce is now within reach of almost everyone. Canning has made the products we want cheaper, safer and more accessible.

With superb food preserving qualities (without the use of preservatives), canning provides nutritious food that requires no refrigeration or other special storage, and minimal cooking time. Steel cans are also cost-effective while the food inside has a longer shelf life.

History of canned food

Before canning there were limited ways to keep food from spoiling: drying, salting, smoking and pickling. These methods are not only time-consuming; they also affect the form, taste and nutrients of the food.

The onset of a war in Europe in the late 18th century was the catalyst to a new form of food preservation. Soldiers needed to be fed and armies and navies were looking for a cheap and effective way to keep food from spoiling on the battlefield and long voyages. So French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a new way to preserve food.

A confectioner named Nicolas Appert, who had earlier discovered that heating food to high temperatures inside sealed glass jars stopped it from spoiling, won the prize in 1810.

He perfected the technique with iron canisters, which are lighter and sturdier for transportation and storage. The iron was coated with a fine layer of tin to stop it from rusting.

The first cans were expensive, because they were made by hand. A good tinsmith could only make six to ten a day. The food inside took up to six hours to cook. All these made canned food very expensive for ordinary people. They were used mainly by the army and navy until the 1920s.

Gradually, the production of cans became mechanised. The first automated production lines produced around six cans an hour. Today’s modern production lines can produce around 1,500 cans a minute.

Cans now weigh over 30% less than 20 years ago, take fewer raw materials to produce, but are stronger and safer. They come in all different shapes and sizes, even with ring pull or peel foil that does away with the need for a can opener. Bowl-shaped cans that are microwaveable make food preparation easier than ever.

Timeline

1795
The Government of Napoleon offered 12,000 francs for a solution to preserving food for its army and navy.

1809
Nicolas Appert was awarded the prize of 12,000 francs from the French government for his method of preserving food by sterilization in cans. He is recognised as the father of canning.

1810
Peter Durand received a patent from King George III of England for a tin-plated iron can as a food container.

1812
Nicolas Appert's "Book for All Households: Or the Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances for Many Years” was translated and published in New York.

1818
Peter Durand introduced the tin-plated can in America.

1819
Thomas Kensett, Sr. and Ezra Daggett of England canned oysters, fruits, meats and vegetables in New York City.

1825
Kensett patented the tinplated can in America.

1847
Allen Taylor, an American, patented a machine-stamped tin can with extension edges.

1849
Henry Evans was granted a patent for the pendulum press. When combined with a die device, it could make a can end in a single operation. This increased individual worker production from five or six cans per hour to 50 or 60 per hour.

1856
Gail Borden was granted a patent for condensed milk.

1866
The first can opener was invented.

1875
Arthur A. Libby and William J. Wilson developed the tapered can for corned beef in Chicago.

1876
The Hume "floater" was introduced to "float" solder onto the ends of cans as they rolled along "the line."

1877
The simplified "side seamer" for cans was introduced.

1880 – 1890
The first automatic can making machinery greatly increased production.

1898
George W. Cobb Preserving Company perfected the sanitary can.

1914
Continuous ovens for drying inked tinplate were introduced.

1921
Zinc oxide and other zinc compounds in an enamel lining were found to prevent discoloration of canned corn by "corn black" or zinc sulphide.

1922
Eric Rotheim of Oslo, Norway developed the modern aerosol can.

1940
The start of carbonated soft drink canning.

1941
U.S. soldiers were supplied with canned field rations during World War II.

1955
Canned food was put through the A-Bomb Civil Defence Tests in Nevada. They proved safe to eat.

1957
Aluminium was used to make cans.

1960
The easy-opening can was introduced.

1964
The 2-piece can was developed. It used less metal than the traditional 3-piece can.