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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 2

I Technology Transported; 1788-1840

II Technology Established; 1840-1940

III The Coming Of Science

IV From Science To Technology: The Post-war Years

V Products And Processes

VI Conclusion

VII Acknowledgements



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Chapter 2 - Food Technology

The aboriginal inhabitants of Australia hunted, or gathered their food from bush and seashore. They lived from hand to mouth, but their culture contained a glimmer of food technology. Thus, a primitive flour was produced by hand grinding of seeds such as nardoo. More interesting, however, is the evidence of the existence thousands of years ago of a complex empirical detoxification process for cycad nuts (Macrozamia spp)[1][2] which, untreated, are known to be both acutely toxic and carcinogenic.[3] Neither of these was food technology but rather a technique for making raw materials more palatable or safe.

Technology as an art often precedes the scientific explanation of what has been achieved empirically. A well known example is the development of the steam engine a long time before there was any understanding of the Carnot cycle or the principles of thermodynamics. Food technology has been defined as the 'reduction of the art of preserving food to a set of principles the application of which will ensure that the processes are reliable and repeatable and that the products are safe, will keep, and are acceptable to the consumer'[4] but food technology was practised as an art long before any attempt was made to establish the principles, and this was so in Australia as elsewhere. The First Fleet brought with it eighteenth century English food technologies; milling, brewing, salting and some minor peripheral processes, all of which were intended to supply local needs. This period lasted some fifty years, the years of transportation of traditional technology.

Modern food technology is usually dated from the introduction of heat processing in the 1780s by the Frenchman, Nicolas Appert, and in the nineteenth century many other fundamental developments in the storage and transport of food occurred. In Australia in the 1840s an abundance of excess lean meat stimulated thoughts, which had already been voiced, about the export of Australian meat to Britain and ushered in a century from 1840 to 1940 in which food technology was firmly established in this country and Australia became a major food exporter. Technological change came slowly, with meat canning and refrigeration and an embryo sugar industry. Meat canning burgeoned in the 1870s, but the overall rate of development accelerated enormously in the last twenty years or so of the nineteenth century. Significant advances in the milling, dairy, brewing and sugar industries and in refrigeration were introduced. Quite suddenly science began to be applied to food; new methods and efficiency lent new authority to analytical chemistry, which quite rapidly led to the control of food technology through food regulations, and science was also applied in the brewing and sugar industries and to cereals.

In the new century, up to the outbreak of the Second World War, modern can-making and canning techniques replaced the old hand fabrication and closing methods, a number of important companies concerned with different kinds of food processing began, the processing of fruit and vegetables - canning, freezing, dehydration - was established, research and development (R & D) appeared in government and company laboratories, and ancillary or service companies arose; but the rate of progress slowed.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 71 - 72, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher