In A Nutshell
Most people erroneously believe that Louis Pasteur was the inventor of pasteurization, but he merely improved upon the method which had been in place for decades. At the end of the 18th century, Nicolas Appert actually began pasteurizing foods and was the first person to do so. He was even rewarded by Napoleon for his efforts.
The Whole Bushel
Louis Pasteur is credited with being an amazing scientist and he is sometimes called “the father of microbiology” thanks to his germ theories of fermentation and disease. He is also the namesake of pasteurization, the process used to inhibit microbial growth in food. However, Pasteur is not the true inventor at all—he just took an existing method and improved upon it in 1864, scientifically documenting times and temperatures to come up with a better balance between taste and safety.
The true inventor of the process is Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner, who began experimenting with various ways of preserving food, finally discovering pasteurization’s benefits in 1795. Basically, Appert would put the item in a glass jar, hermetically seal it, and submerge it in boiling water for a length of time which Appert himself determined on his own. It was rather effective, enabling the food to last for a much longer amount of time before spoiling, but the taste was greatly diminished because Appert boiled it at too high of a temperature for too long.
In 1800, Napoleon offered 12,000 francs (equivalent to over $200,000 today) as a prize to anyone who could come up with a better way for him to feed his army. Appert submitted his method and won, but Napoleon refused to let him publish his methods for 10 years, as he felt it held too much strategic importance for his army.