The History of Packaged Food: From Ancient Times to the Present Day

The history of packaged food is as intriguing as the various ways in which we can preserve food. From ancient times to the present day, preparation, storage and preservation of food has become more sophisticated. This article will explore some of the ways that humans have stored and preserved foods for centuries. These different methods are known as “The History of Packaged Food”.

Ancient Times

The earliest examples of food packaging come from Ancient China, where rice was often stored in containers made of woven reeds. Other cultures have historically used baskets and woven containers for a variety of foods. In Ancient Egypt, honey was often stored in containers made from reed mats. Early civilizations developed techniques for drying food, as well as smoking and salting it. These techniques prevented decay and create long shelf-life foods for longer storage.

Dry Storage

Dry storage refers to the method of storing food in a dry, cool place that has low humidity. Dry storage conditions prevent the growth of fungi and bacteria that would otherwise spoil the food. Food left in a dry environment will eventually lose moisture and become brittle and stale, so it is important to use dried food within a few months. Many foods can be dried naturally in the sun, such as herbs and vegetables. Other foods, such as meat, fish, and dairy products, are not suitable for sun drying. To dry these foods, one can use a drying chamber or food dehydrator. Dried foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes are often packed in sealed containers to prevent them from absorbing dust and odours in the environment. Dried ingredients are also easy to transport and store, making them the most common type of packaged food in the world.

Water Storage

Food can be preserved by storing it in water. Water storage is often used for root vegetables and other foods that are not suitable for drying. The items are placed in a container of water and left to ferment naturally. Fermentation is a process by which bacteria in the water break down the food item, producing lactic or acetic acid that inhibits the growth of other bacteria. The high salt content of the water also prevents spoilage and fermentation. Saltwater brine is commonly used to preserve pickles, cucumbers, olives, and other vegetables. Fish, eggs, and other items can also be preserved by placing them in water and adding salt to inhibit bacterial growth.

Smoked and Dried Food

Smokehouses were once a common feature in many kitchens, and were traditionally used to smoke and dry food. Today, fewer people are doing home smoking, but it remains an important method of food preservation. Smoking food involves hanging it in a smokehouse filled with smoke, which has acquired its flavour from burning wood. The smoke prevents the growth of bacteria, extending the shelf-life of the food. The process of smoking food can take several hours or even days, depending on the size of the batch. Some foods are dried after smoking to make them easier to transport and store. Dried foods such as meat and fish are often packed in sealed containers to prevent them from absorbing dust and odours in the environment.

Freezing and Canning Food

Freezing and canning have become popular ways to preserve food over the last few centuries. Both these techniques rely on sterilizing the food to kill microorganisms that would otherwise spoil it. Freezer temperatures below 0°C (32°F) make it difficult for microbes to grow and thrive. The food is placed in airtight containers that are designed to keep out air while keeping in the cold. It is important to leave sufficient room in the containers for the food to expand as it freezes. Canning jars used for preserving food in jars rely on a method known as thermal processing. The jars are filled with food and then placed in a water bath that is brought to a high temperature. The high temperature kills microorganisms in the food, extending its shelf-life. The jars are then sealed to keep out air, water, and other contaminants.


Humans have been storing and preserving food for millennia. The history of packaged food varies from region to region, and it is fascinating to see the different ways that people have preserved their food. Although some methods are less popular than they used to be, they are still useful today. With the rise of refrigeration and the creation of artificial preservatives, the history of packaged food has become more diverse.