Tyndallization Sterilization: Definition, Process & History

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  • 0:04 What Is Tyndallization?
  • 0:53 The Tyndallization Process
  • 1:45 History
  • 2:21 Use Today
  • 3:19 Botulism
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

Tyndallization sterilization is a method of sterilization developed by physicist Dr. John Tyndall during the nineteenth century. This lesson examines Tyndallization, its history, how it works, and its uses and effectiveness.

What Is Tyndallization?

John Tyndall was a physicist from County Carlow, Ireland, who did a great deal of study on atmospheric conditions and climate change, including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Because of some of the related experiments he did during the 1860s, he was well ahead of his time. He also studied the diffusion of light and, of course, he invented the sterilization process that was named after him.

The term sterilization means the removal of all living microorganisms, including spores, from an object. The uses of sterilization range from the storage of food to conducting medical procedures safely. In practice, Tyndallization was used mostly for food storage. Tyndallization, also called fractional sterilization and discontinuous heating, is a form of sterilization that involves boiling goods in cans or jars for about 20 minutes a day, for three days in a row.

The Tyndallization Process

You see, during the 1900s, people still grew and canned a lot of their own food. However, they sometimes discovered the hard way that if it wasn't done right, serious consequences could ensue. So, many were looking for the ideal way to get the job done, and John Tyndall proposed a solution.

Tyndall's method is relatively simple but somewhat time-consuming. Food is placed in a can or heat-proof storage container, which is then boiled for about 15 to 20 minutes each day, for three days in a row. The rest of the time, it just sits on the counter at room temperature. The boiling temperature must be at least the boiling point of water, or 100 degrees Centigrade (212 degrees Fahrenheit). The idea behind this is that any microorganisms that don't get killed by the first day's boiling session will germinate from the warmth and get released from their spore coatings, and then get killed in the next day's boiling session, or, if they survive that one, then on the third day's boiling session.


People who lived during the time (about 1917 to 1921) had many different variations upon the theme of Tyndallization. These ideas were published in various books and magazines about home canning. Homemakers used cause-and-effect methodologies to observe what seemed to work better and what didn't work at all, and would add details about how the food should be packed in the can (loosely or tightly) depending upon what was being canned, whether it was more or less acidic, and many other interesting factors. Often, the process worked well and served people by creating a nice food supply for the winter. But sometimes, people ate the canned food and died.

Use Today

So, is Tyndallization a safe and effective way to sterilize food? In short, the answer is no. Although it may work sometimes, it's unreliable because different kinds of microorganisms are killed in different ways, and it's not always certain what bugs will be found on a food item that's being sterilized. As we've mentioned, some spore-forming organisms are more resistant to heat than are non-spore forming bugs, and three days of boiling for a short time may not be enough to kill them. In addition, Tyndallization only works on any medium that promotes the growth of bacteria from the sprouting spores. This means it doesn't work on plain water. It also does not work on prions, which are very nasty little protein-containing bugs that cause infectious illnesses like mad cow disease.

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