To read this content please select one of the options below:

British Food Journal Volume 54 Issue 1 1952

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 January 1952



Just a hundred years ago great developments were pending in this country in matters relating to health and to the diagnosis and treatment of disease. It was in 1852 that Pasteur began his epoch‐making researches on the subject of bacterial fermentation. At about the same time the ophthalmoscope was introduced. In 1854 Florence Nightingale was busy demanding reforms in nursing, and in 1855 the hypodermic syringe was invented. In 1858 a register of qualified dentists was established for the first time. But the years 1851 to 1854 were remarkable also for the institution and prosecution for the first time in British history of an active campaign for the suppression of the adulteration of food. There was little knowledge of this subject and almost no laws, with two minor exceptions. It was nominally an offence under a statute of George IV to adulterate bread with alum—but no public official had any duty to enforce it. Also, there were certain Revenue Acts, enforceable by the Customs and Excise Department, which in the interests of the Revenue, not of consumers, forbade the adulteration of certain excisable articles of food. But the machinery of the Department was clumsy and inefficient. To two far‐seeing and very courageous men is due the credit for the overdue enactment in 1860 of legislation intended to protect the public from the wholesale adulteration which was rampant a hundred years ago. One was Thomas Wakley, F.R.C.S., Editor of The Lancet. Wakley in 1851 appointed an Analytical and Sanitary Commission, with Dr. A. H. Hassall, M.D., M.R.C.P., as Chief Analyst, to make investigations on a large scale, and promised that the results would be published in his journal, which would announce also the names and addresses of retailers, and of manufacturers when known, of all articles found to be adulterated. A great number of these reports appeared in The Lancet from 1851 to 1854, and were afterwards reprinted in a book by Dr. Hassall. They threw much light on many black spots. The first subject to be tackled was coffee, which was almost invariably adulterated with chicory. Analytical chemists until then had stated that it was impossible for them to detect the adulteration in their laboratories. But Dr. Hassall was a skilled microscopist, as well as a chemist and a doctor. He was the first person in this country to “ apply regularly and systematically the powers of the microscope to the elucidation of the subject of adulteration ”. He was able to detect by his microscope flagrant and widespread adulteration of the following, among many other, foods :—


(1952), "British Food Journal Volume 54 Issue 1 1952", British Food Journal, Vol. 54 No. 1, pp. 1-10.




Copyright © 1952, MCB UP Limited

Related articles