This is the African-American chemist behind the many food preservatives used today

Stephen Nartey December 13, 2022
Lloyd Augustus Hall, Food Chemist/Photo credit: National Inventors Hall of Fame

Before he pioneered his research into food preservation, the norm of storing food without it going bad was the use of salt. But, that had a major challenge on the taste of food because it always ended up with a bitter taste.

The script on how to preserve food however changed in 1932 when African-American food chemist Lloyd Augustus Hall came up with several ways people could preserve their food without it going bad and keeping the taste intact as well. Before his retirement, he had over 100 patents in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.

He used a mixture of salt and tiny crystals of sodium nitrate and nitrite to hold down the nitrogen that was responsible for making food go bad. This way of preservation is still used in storing meats today, according to ACS.

That was not the only invention he came up with. He also researched how some spices opened food up to microbes that resulted in food rotting in a matter of hours.

Hall was born in Elgin, IL in 1894 to a Baptist Minister. His grandfather was one of the first Black preachers ordained at the church where his father was a minister, according to the African American Registry. He had his second-cycle education in Aurora, IL. He later furthered at Northwestern University where he attained his Bachelor of Science degree in 1914. Two years later, he received his Master of Science from the same institution and a Doctor of Science from Virginia State College in 1944.

His first job which spanned a period of four years was at the Department of Health Laboratories for the City of Chicago where he started as a junior sanitary chemist and later rose to a senior position. He was also the chief chemist for John Morrell and Company of Ottumwa, Iowa from 1919 to 1921.

He later became the President of the Chemical Products Corporation, Chicago from 1921 to 1924. That did not end there. Hall moved on to become a consultant for Griffith’s Laboratories from 1925 to 1929, then got promoted to the rank of technical director at the same facility from 1929 to 1946.

During World War I, Hall served the U.S. government as a researcher and chief inspector of high explosives from 1946 to 1959. His services were called upon again during World War II when he became a consultant in subsistence development and research laboratories of the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. army.

When he retired, he was offered a job as a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations. Hall is behind the many ways of treating meat with food seasonings, bakery products, protein hydrolysates, antioxidants and curing products to enhance the flavor of food and maintain its freshness.

He is responsible for the methods of sterilizing cereals, spices and other food materials as well as pharmaceutical products that are used in modern times. He invented the antioxidant that keeps fatty and oily foods from spoiling when these ingredients interact with oxygen. He was the first food chemist to discover that chemicals such as propyl, gallate, lecithin and ascorbyl palmitate could be used to store food without it getting spoiled.

At some point, Griffith Laboratories opened one of the largest manufacturing companies dedicated to protein hydrolysates to help preserve meat.

Hall has been acclaimed as one of the United States’ top food chemists based on his contributions to the body of knowledge in food preservation. He passed away on January 2, 1971.

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