The Origins of Sterilization
Every time you use your Midmark M9, you owe a bit of homage to a French confectionist working on food preservation methods in support of expansion of the Napoleonic Empire. Fascinating stuff.
Long before Antony Van Leeuwenhoek became the first human to see single-cell organisms, there was a general understanding of disease and sterilization practices. Most of the early developments come not from medicine and surgical studies, but from the period of time in which humans began to settle and stockpile food. Food safety, then, is the beginning of the scientific attempts to understand sterilization.
Nicolas Appert: Looks like a French Andrew Jackson in an Ascot
Early Preservation Methods to Appertization
It's fairly well known that salt was one of the earliest methods for preserving food. Before Nicholas Appert, food could be preserved by salt, smoking, and drying – meat in particular. Salted meats, smoked meats, and jerky are all preserved. Denis Papin, another Frenchman, created what was commonly called a steam digester in 1679. His design was impractical and a little dangerous – M. Lemare, who later improved upon Papin's design, noted that the most concerning aspect of the design was how dangerous it was to use. Charles Chamberland, a contemporary and friend of Louis Pasteur, later applied the steam digester, or pressure cooker, to sterilization purposes for the pursuit of scientific interests.
Ascots and men's neck fashion apparently played a pivotal role in the scientific advances of food preservation
None of the above Frenchmen succeeded in finding a way to keep food sterile for long enough periods of time that allowed for storage and stockpiling. However, when the French government offered a reward to the best food preservation in 1810, Nicolas Appert used his knowledge as a brewer, baker, and confectionist to create the method of preservation known as appertization, or more commonly, canning. Using glass jars, sealing wax, and boiling water, Appert successfully won the prize and created a sustainable method for preserving anything from pieces of fruit and prepared meals to an entire sheep. The sheep is not a joke.
Application to the Modern Autoclave
How our friends Appert, Papin, Lemare, and Chamberland apply to the modern autoclave appears tangential. However, their studies and need to overcome contamination by microbiological creatures illustrates a common need in the contemporary medical and dental fields. They may not have understood where germs come from, but they understood that reducing the chances of infection were key to reducing illness and lengthening the amount of time food could be kept.
The Modern Midmark M11 Autoclave - $3,000
For dental and medical professionals, infection control is applied at every level of design – from how a vacuum pump removes waste and avoids cross contamination to the autoclave. Today's autoclaves use much of the same concepts as those earlier attempts at sterilization – pressure, heat, chemicals, and steam are still the most common methods of autoclave sterilization on the market.
Watch for our next installment related to sterilizers, autoclaves and infection control: Germ Theory