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Meat Preservation

We are assured that the attempts to discover some plan by which meat in the mass may be prevented undergoing decomposition and preserved for many months in a condition in which its nutritive qualities suffer no appreciable loss, have succeeded. If so, in due time we have hope that the market will be supplied with a greater amount of meat than at present enters it, and consider the possibility of pulling down the high prices of the present tariff not an out of the way expectation. In some parts of the world there is a super-abundance of animal food; beasts maybe purchased for a nominal sum, save in time of famine or of plague. Science ventures to declare, however, that it can negative the influence of distance, and render the plenty of other countries accessible for our use. Several plans have from time to time been recommended and adopted; but, whilst many of them answer fairly as regards the mere preservation, they one and all injure the flesh-forming substance, and therefore the nutritive qualities of the meat - a circumstance of the most vital consequence in reference to the case of those who spend half their lives at sea, and are but too often smitten with scurvy or some of its allies. We say of meat that it “won't keep” - it is a perishable article, rapidly undergoing putrefactive changes. The tendency of modern science is to ascribe all putrefactive and fermentative changes to the influence exerted by the growth and multiplication of microscopic forms of life, chiefly vegetable, which are essentially ubiquitous, and only await a convenient opportunity to develop upon any substance tending to decay and death. It is imagined that these little bodies play the role of scavenger, decomposing and converting into comparatively harmless products what would otherwise be a greater source of poisoning and pollution of the atmosphere. The growth of these "organic germs" is favoured by the presence of heat and moisture. Now the various plans that have been put into operation from time to time for checking all change in meat, act, speaking generally, in one of two ways— either by taking away and preventing the access of the air, the heat, or the moisture, or by the employment of some agency by which the " germs " that by growth induce decomposition are destroyed; such as heat, or so-called antiseptics, popularly called disinfectants. Such is the theory; now for the practice. When the temperature around the meat is lowered to a certain degree no change ensues, frozen meat, we know keeps for a very long period in a wholesome condition. At different times the use of freezing mixtures has been recommended; but necessarily this procedure could only be employed to a limited extent. The moisture may be removed by heat, as in the process suggested by Davidson, Murdock, Blumenthal, Bethell, Hassall, and others; still the fat present is liable to get rancid, and the dried meat absorbs moisture very readily. The use of salt in pickling and preserving has a similar effect. it attracts the water in the meat hut not only this, much of the nutritive substance, the juicy part of the fibre, is taken out; about a third, it is calculated, of the nutritive part of meat, is lost by salting, and it is a deficiency of this kind that renders the diet of salted provisions alone so productive of evil consequences The sailor may get his proper allowance in weight but only two-thirds of what he should receive as regards flesh-forming substance. The most usual plan in operation has been to preserve animal food in canisters, from which the air has been exhausted, and if properly carried out there can be no doubt that it accomplishes the object in view somewhat satisfactorily. The difficulty lies in ensuring the continued and perfect exclusion of the air, which always contains organic germs. Baron Liebig's food consists of the juices and soluble part of meat made into an extract. Then chemists have counselled the meat of certain substances that have the property of killing the various organic germs in and about and that find access to the meat - but these, of course, are most unpleasant additions, and they altogether in some cases alter the character of the meat. Again, heat alone has been the efficient agent in some other methods of preservation ; the meat has been subjected to the influence of heat, by which the organic germs are killed, the juices boiled so as to expel the air, and then the whole hermetically sealed to keep out all external influences. All these different processes have been but too liable to failure, too complex, or accompanied by some special drawback, and it seems to have been reserved for Professor Redwood to have accomplished by the most simple means really the most satisfactory of all modes of preserving meat. Heat is the agent by which the desired result is brought about. The air in expelled, the organic germs are destroyed, the meat is covered over by a layer of material which effectually prevents the entrance of the external air, and no canister is needed. Now, how is all this accomplished? The meat is simply placed in a bath of melted paraffin at a temperature of 240 deg. Fahrenheit; the juices are hereby boiled, so that the moisture is driven off in amount in direct ratio to the length of the time of immersion. The meat is removed and remains covered over with a layer of solid paraffin. Now the action of the latter is entirely mechanical: paraffin, when pure is like white wax, has no smell or taste, and, what is of prime importance, it is cheap, harmless, used with the most ready facility for the purpose, and the quantity necessary to secure the object in view is very small. We have seen and eaten beef steaks and chops preserved by Professor Redwood's process, and we pronounced them to possess all the characters of fresh meat. When required it is only necessary to cook meat thus preserved in the ordinary way. The process we now describe seems to be a happy application of chemistry to the economy of food, and it declares that distance is no bar to the access of the overabundance of the cattle supply of far-off parts; that no crew and no army need be fed on foul food or be starved out from want of fresh provisions. The simplicity of the process is its greatest recommendation. Seeing that so much disease is ascribed to the want of fresh meat Professor Redwood's process ought to supply a roost important deficiency in the economy of diet.

The London Standard, 11th March 1867

 

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