How Henry Heinz used ketchup to improve food safety

If bacteria in ketchup didn’t sicken you, the preservatives might—until this wealthy food manufacturer cleaned up the condiment.

Ketchup—that cheerful red sauce sold in handy glass bottles—first came on the American market in the 19th century. But its ingredients were shockingly different than they are today.

Food advocates complained that the sauce was frequently made from tomato scraps thickened with ground pumpkin rinds, apple pomace (the skin, pulp, seeds, and stems left after the fruit was pressed for juice), or cornstarch, and dyed a deceptive red. One French cookbook author described the ketchup sold in markets as “filthy, decomposed and putrid.”

By the late 19th century, it would become less putrid, as manufacturers added chemical preservatives to slow decomposition in the bottle. But the real change—the invention of modern ketchup—occurred in the 20th century, and it’s a story of both politics and personality. It begins with an unlikely alliance between one of the country’s richest food manufacturers, Henry J. Heinz, and an underpaid federal chemist. The two men bonded over a mutual belief that unsafe and untrustworthy food was a growing national problem.

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