History of Food Microbiology

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History of Food Microbiology

People recognized many of the processes caused by microorganisms since the old times, but they did not know the true causes of these phenomena. The lack of information about the nature of these organisms, nevertheless, did not stop scientists observing, and even using a number of these processes in real life. The knowledge of the biology of microorganisms, the characteristics of their habitat and physiology allows scientists to develop measures to prevent infectious diseases, spoilage of raw materials, feed, and food. Meat food enterprises, therefore, require providing continuous microbiological control of production conditions. This paper aims to observe the development of food microbiology during the history and its impact on further discoveries and achievements.

The Science of Microbiology

For thousands of years, people lived surrounded by invisible beings, using their waste products such as products of lactic acid, alcohol, and acetic acid fermentation. People often suffered from these creatures as the latter were the cause of the essential quantity of the diseases; yet, people did not know about the presence of these beings because of their invisibility. The human speculations about fermentation, putrefaction, and infectious diseases were observed a long time ago. For example, Hippocrates (460-377 BC.) suggested that infectious diseases were caused by invisible living beings (Taormina, 2012). Further, an Italian doctor and astronomer D. Frakastro (1478-1553) concluded that some smallest living creatures transmitted an epidemic of the disease from person to person, although the scientist could not prove this theory (De?k & Farkas, 2013).

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For a few years afterward, it was discovered that the world of microorganisms was vast and diverse, and it included single-celled bacteria, microscopic algae, actinomycetes and fungi, protozoa organisms and ultramicroscopic beings or viruses (Corry, Curtis, & ? Baird, 2012). All these microorganisms were widely distributed in nature and accompanied a person throughout his/her life, imperiously intruding into it as enemies or friends. The enormous number of such a small living things was found in the food, water, and air. All the facts mentioned above caused the development of a new science – microbiology that is defined as a science that studies morphology, physiology, genetics, the ecology of the microbes, and their role in the life of animals, plants, and humans (Ray & Bhunia, 2013). To go further, microorganisms can be beneficial or harmful. Useful microbes (saprophytes) are decomposed remains of plants and dead animals, and thus, they purify the land. On the contrary, harmful microorganisms (pathogenic) cause disease and harm to animals, plants, and humans.

The Discovery of Microbes

Microorganisms were beyond the resolving power of the human eye, so, before the invention of the microscope, people did not know about the existence of such small beings. However, even without knowing it, humans have learned how to exploit the processes of life of many microbes, in particular, for the preparation of koumiss and other fermented milk products, producing wine, vinegar, beer, silage fodder, and retting flax. The literature reveals that the nature of the fermentation process remained unclear for centuries (Taormina, 2012). Along with this, people have learned that the other side of the activity of microorganisms was their ability to cause an epidemic of infectious disease that severely damage humanity.

For thousands of years, the origin and causes of diseases remained unclear. However, long ago, people noticed that there were some similarities between the processes of fermentation and putrefaction. It was also observed that infectious diseases were often accompanied by the formation of pus. Thus, many centuries ago, people discovered that the understanding of processes of fermentation and putrefaction led to the understanding of nature of contagious diseases. An English scientist R. Boyle prophetically predicted that the one who guessed the mystery of fermentation would also solve the nature of infectious diseases (Ray & Bhunia, 2013).

Although people observed different processes that were caused by microorganisms, they could not explain them. The lack of information about the nature of such phenomena did not stop people making observations, and even using a number of these processes in life. Girolamo Fracastoro (1478-1553) was the scientist who came closer to the opening of the macrocosm than others (Ray & Bhunia, 2013). He suggested that little bodies, transmitted by contact and remaining on the patient things, caused infections. However, it was impossible to verify this idea and Fracastoro’s contemporaries started giving completely different hypothesis.

The existence of microbes was discovered only in the second half of the 17th century when in connection with the development of trade there was a need to improve the optics for navigation such as telescopes (De?k & Farkas, 2013). However, the first microscope that was designed in Holland by Hans and Zacharias Janssen in 1590 gave a very slight increase (total 32 times) and did not allow seeing bacteria (Taormina, 2012).

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The research asserts that the first information about the microorganisms was very scarce: in particular, in the 18th century, Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus selected microorganisms in one genus called Chaos and referred them to the Worms (Jay, 2000).With the expansion of methods for studying the properties of microorganisms, scientists made attempts to systematize these smallest beings. Thus, in 1786, Myuller identified two kinds of bacteria – Monas and Vibrio and brought them to a group of ciliates (Corry et al., 2012). In 1838, Erenberg renamed them Monadna family with one genus (Monas) and Vibrionia, which identified four kinds: Bacterium, Spirillum, Vibrio, and Spirochaeta (Taormina, 2012).

The Historical Review

The first description of microorganisms was made by the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723), who constructed the microscope that gave an increase of 150 – 300 times (De?k & Farkas, 2013). The scientist observed microorganisms in a variety of infusions, water, feces, dental plaque, and other substances. He stated the results of his observations in the Letters about Live Animals in 1678 (Corry et al., 2012). Moreover, in his book, Secrets of Nature, by Antoni Leeuwenhoek, the scientist presented the drawings of the main forms of bacteria that provided the fresh impetus for the study of microorganisms (Corry et al., 2012). Studying the putrid water, mud, and plaque, Leeuwenhoek found similar organisms and painted them, as it is shown in the image.

However, until the mid-nineteenth century, the scientific studies were limited by the consideration of the features of the microorganisms’ external structure only. As a result, this period of the development of microbiology was called morphological.

Ray and Bhunia, the authors of Fundamental Food Microbiology (2013), assumed that one of the oldest areas of human activity were baking, winemaking and brewing, which basically had nothing but a vital activity of microorganisms that were in baker’s yeast and wine. It also may include such activities as making dairy products by using lactic acid bacteria (Figure 2); producing edible vinegar by using acetic acid bacteria; as well as making various organic acids and solvents, that was carried out for a long time only biotechnologically and had no understudy in the chemical industry.

The rapid development of microbiology began in the second half of the 19th century (Stakheev, Khairulina, & Zavriev, 2016). A prominent French scientist, the founder of microbiological science Louis Pasteur, opened a new period in the development of the science – physiological one (De?k & Farkas, 2013). L. Pasteur demonstrated that microorganisms differed from each other in not only appearance, structure, and metabolic characteristics. Moreover, the scientist discovered that microbes could cause various chemical transformations in nature and be agents of many diseases. He also explored the microbial nature of alcohol lactic, butyric, acetic acid fermentation, and scientifically substantiated anaerobic respiration type of microorganisms. Pasteur also proved that the reason of fermentation and putrefaction is a work of certain microorganisms that produce various enzymes. Therefore, each fermentation process occurs due to the vital activity of the specific pathogen called barley rotting putrefying bacteria. Studying the butyric acid fermentation, Pasteur found that butyricum was developed in the absence of oxygen, and thus discovered the phenomenon of anaerobiosis (www.alamy.com/stock-photo/anaerobiosis.html).

All the Pasteur’s discoveries allowed perceiving food as a complex system consisting of millions of cells, viruses, and bacteria. One more conclusion the discoveries allowed to make – the relationship between microbiota can provide high-quality products. Nowadays, while designing an optimal diet, scientists consider the individual nutritional needs of a particular person, his or her national or racial affiliation, and specific ecological and biochemical conditions of the living environment.

Developments and Achievements in Food Microbiology

On the grounds of the great scientific advances, it has become possible to convert microorganisms into an inexhaustible source of biologically active substances, such as feed and food protein, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, hormones, antibiotics, and alcohol (Banwart, 2004). These products of microbial synthesis are widely used in various sectors of the economy and, in particular, in the food industry. In the same way, advances in the field of technical microbiology are used to create biotechnology that describes ways of producing important human substances and foodstuffs, using living cells. For example, genetic engineering made it possible to construct the microorganisms with the desired properties.

In addition, the creation of an electron microscope and the development of new methods for studying microorganisms allowed scientists to explore them at the molecular level, which in turn made it possible to study the properties of microbes, and their chemical activity at a deeper level, managing microbiological processes (Figure 4).

According to Jay (2000), the microbiology of food production examines the activities of undesirable foreign microorganisms that can suppress the development of other microorganisms and thus allow obtaining good-quality products. Besides, all major branches of the food industry have special microbiological laboratories that provide production control and check the quality of raw materials and finished products.

The development of the latest biotechnology makes room in the field of technical solvents and organic acids (Ray & Bhunia, 2013). Such rapid progress in this sphere occurred primarily due to the antibiotic that was discovered in the 1940-1950s (Ray & Bhunia, 2013). Antibiotics proved to be results of work of extremely high-tech industries; in addition, production of antibiotics required integration efforts of microbiologists, biochemists, geneticists, as well as the involvement of many other relevant sectors of science. In that period, it was established microbiological production with modern equipment, advanced biotechnology, and a wide selection of microorganisms. Increased knowledge of antibiotics, as well as the development of the antibiotic industry, has become an excellent school of biotechnology that led to a significant increase in the production of microbiological culture.

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According to the forecasts, by 2050, the Earth’s population will grow to 10 billion people and in order to ensure the needs of such an enormous quantity of human beings, it will be necessary to increase agricultural production by 75 percent (Banwart, 2004, p. 121). The analysis of the problem of human food by specialists from different countries has shown that most of it is the lack of animal protein and the amino acid composition, which is richer than vegetable protein (Jay, 2000). Industrial microbiological livestock supplies, at least, three kinds of important substances: feed protein or protein-vitamin, which concentrates essential amino acids, and feed antibiotics. Finally, the most productive raw material for creating a microbial protein should be considered fiber, corncobs, straw, and other agricultural waste.


The development of food microbiology plays an important role in human life. Numerous scientists laid the foundation for this science and made a great impact on its development. The subject of microbiology is a large group of diverse living things. The discovery and exploration of microbes indicate their significant role in nature and human life. Moreover, the history of food microbiology demonstrates how people learned different processes caused by microorganisms. Microorganisms also determine highly important manufacturing practices such as baking, winemaking, production of organic acids, enzymes, food proteins, hormones, antibiotics, and other medicinal substances. The further development of food microbiology, therefore, will allow scientists to make new discoveries and achievements in the future.

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