These records are featured in our new “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” exhibit which opens this Friday! To celebrate the opening, the Foundation for the National Archives is giving away a free copy of the exhibit catalog. Leave a comment below telling us what food you like to put ketchup on, and the Foundation will randomly choose a winner next Wednesday!
Long before the 1981 congressional debate over whether ketchup was a vegetable or before my grandfather was using it to help make his WWII military rations palatable, ketchup was dangerous.
Ketchup could explode.
Early ketchup was made from fermented skins and cores. These fermenting tomato leftovers could explode and burst their containers, so benzoate of soda was added a preservative.
However, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, meant that ketchup—and its rotting, explosive tomato ingredients—was now regulated. In the image above 1909, the company making “Squire Tomato Catsup” was prosecuted and fined $50 for making ketchup from “Decomposed Material.”
In another case (image below), “Elk Pride Tomato Catsup” was found to have yeasts, bacteria, and mold filaments in samples of its products when tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The shipment was condemned for destruction when it was found to be “adulturated in violation of the Food and Drugs Act . . . because it consisted in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid, or decomposed vegetable substance.”
Benzoate of soda is no longer added to ketchup. Henry Heinz created a clean factory where he was able to make ketchup with ripe tomatoes instead of fermenting (and explosive) tomatoes, eliminating the need for benzoate of sod.