Honoring the Life and Work of Dr. Mary Engle Pennington

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On World Refrigeration Day, day we’d like to highlight the groundbreaking work of Dr. Mary Engle Pennington, who revolutionized food safety. A foremost expert on refrigeration and its impact on food, Dr. Mary Engle Pennington helped make possible the food safety standards we take for granted today. She developed and popularized techniques to make perishable foods last longer and cost less. These advances have allowed us to avoid countless food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and E. coli. Dr. Pennington conducted bacteriological analyses for subscribing doctors creation of milk and dairy standards that became the standard throughout the country. She also examined the efficiency of refrigerator cars and produced guidelines for their insulation and construction. Pennington also advised industry on the design and building of modern warehouses and refrigerators.

Dr. Pennington’s four decades of remarkable accomplishments didn’t come without adversity. The University of Pennsylvania refused to give her a bachelor’s degree in 1892 because she was a woman. Nevertheless, she earned a certificate of proficiency in chemistry and learned her PhD in chemistry at the the University of Pennsylvania just 3 years later. After no one would hire her, Dr. Pennington founded Philadelphia Clinical Laboratory in 1898. There, her team began the bacteriological work that forever changed the way we think about food safety. In 1905 she became the FDA’s first female lab chief. In 1923, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) honored Pennington as the top US expert on home refrigeration. To learn more about Dr. Mary Engle Pennington, check out these articles, including a 1941 profile from the The New Yorker!

Further Reading:

US Food and Drug Administration

National Women’s Hall of Fame