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Food processing

Industrial cheese production
Industrial cheese production
egg]]-processing plant in Wakefield, Nebraska

Food processing is the set of methods and techniques used to transform raw ingredients into food or to transform food into other forms for consumption by humans or animals either in the home or by the food processing industry. Food processing typically takes clean, harvested crops or butchered animal products and uses these to produce attractive, marketable and often long shelf-life food products. Similar processes are used to produce animal feed.



A form of pre-made split-pea soup that has become traditional
A form of pre-made split-pea soup that has become traditional
Grain silos in Ardrossan, Scotland

Food processing dates back to the prehistoric ages when crude processing incorporated slaughtering, fermenting, sun drying, preserving with salt, and various types of cooking (such as roasting, smoking, steaming, and oven baking). Salt-preservation was especially common for foods that constituted warrior and sailors' diets, until the introduction of canning methods. Evidence for the existence of these methods can be found in the writings of the ancient Greek, Chaldean, Egyptian and Roman civilizations as well as archaeological evidence from Europe, North and South America and Asia. These tried and tested processing techniques remained essentially the same until the advent of the industrial revolution. Examples of ready-meals also exist from preindustrial revolution times such as the Cornish pasty and Haggis. During ancient times and today these are considered processing foods. Food processing has also helped create quick, nutritious meals to give to busy families.

Modern food processing technology in the 19th and 20th century was largely developed to serve military needs. In 1809 Nicolas Appert invented a vacuum bottling technique that would supply food for French troops, and this contributed to the development of tinning and then canning by Peter Durand in 1810. Although initially expensive and somewhat hazardous due to the lead used in cans, canned goods would later become a staple around the world. Pasteurization, discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1862, was a significant advance in ensuring the micro-biological safety of food.

In the 20th century, World War II, the space race and the rising consumer society in developed countries (including the United States) contributed to the growth of food processing with such advances as spray drying, juice concentrates, freeze drying and the introduction of artificial sweeteners, colouring agents, and preservatives such as sodium benzoate. In the late 20th century products such as dried instant soups, reconstituted fruits and juices, and self cooking meals such as MRE food ration were developed.

In western Europe and North America, the second half of the 20th century witnessed a rise in the pursuit of convenience. Food processing companies marketed their products especially towards middle-class working wives and mothers. Frozen foods (often credited to Clarence Birdseye) found their success in sales of juice concentrates and "TV dinners".[1] Processors utilised the perceived value of time to appeal to the postwar population, and this same appeal contributes to the success of convenience foods today.

Benefits and drawbacks


Libby's brand 'Potted Meat Food Product' Processed seafood - fish, squid, prawn balls and simulated crab sticks (surimi)

Benefits of food processing include toxin removal, preservation, easing marketing and distribution tasks, and increasing food consistency. In addition, it increases seasonal availability of many foods, enables transportation of delicate perishable foods across long distances and makes many kinds of foods safe to eat by de-activating spoilage and pathogenic micro-organisms. Modern supermarkets would not exist without modern food processing techniques, long voyages would not be possible and military campaigns would be significantly more difficult and costly to execute.

Processed foods are usually less susceptible to early spoilage than fresh foods and are better suited for long distance transportation from the source to the consumer. When they were first introduced, some processed foods helped to alleviate food shortages and improved the overall nutrition of populations as it made many new foods available to the masses.[2]

Processing can also reduce the incidence of food borne disease. Fresh materials, such as fresh produce and raw meats, are more likely to harbour pathogenic micro-organisms (e.g. Salmonella) capable of causing serious illnesses.

The extremely varied modern diet is only truly possible on a wide scale because of food processing. Transportation of more exotic foods, as well as the elimination of much hard labour gives the modern eater easy access to a wide variety of food unimaginable to their ancestors.[3]

The act of processing can often improve the taste of food significantly.[4]

Mass production of food is much cheaper overall than individual production of meals from raw ingredients. Therefore, a large profit potential exists for the manufacturers and suppliers of processed food products. Individuals may see a benefit in convenience, but rarely see any direct financial cost benefit in using processed food as compared to home preparation.

Processed food freed people from the large amount of time involved in preparing and cooking "natural" unprocessed foods.[5] The increase in free time allows people much more choice in life style than previously allowed. In many families the adults are working away from home and therefore there is little time for the preparation of food based on fresh ingredients. The food industry offers products that fulfill many different needs: From peeled potatoes that only have to be boiled at home to fully prepared ready meals that can be heated up in the microwave oven within a few minutes.

Modern food processing also improves the quality of life for people with allergies, diabetics, and other people who cannot consume some common food elements. Food processing can also add extra nutrients such as vitamins.


Meat packages in a Roman supermarket

Any processing of food can have slight effects on its nutritional density. Vitamin C, for example, is destroyed by heat and therefore canned fruits have a lower content of vitamin C than fresh ones. The USDA conducted a study in 2004, creating a nutrient retention table for several foods.[6] A cursory glance of the table indicates that, in the majority of foods, processing reduces nutrients by a minimal amount. On average any given nutrient may be reduced by as little as 5%-20%.

Another safety concern in food processing is the use of food additives. The health risks of any additives will vary greatly from person to person, in example sugar as an additive would be detrimental to those with diabetes. In the European Union, only food additives (e.g., sweeteners, preservatives, stabilizers) that have been approved as safe for human consumption by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are allowed, at specified levels, for use in food products. Approved additives receive an E number (E for Europe), which at the same time simplifies communication about food additives in the list of ingredients across the different languages of the EU.

Food processing is typically a mechanical process that utilizes large mixing, grinding, chopping and emulsifying equipment in the production process. These processes inherently introduce a number of contaminate risks. As a mixing bowl or grinder is used over time the food contact parts will tend to fail and fracture. This type of failure will introduce in to the product stream small to large metal contaminates. Further processing of these metal fragments will result in downstream equipment failure and the risk of ingestion by the consumer.

Food manufactures utilize industrial metal detectors to detect and reject automatically any metal fragment. Large food processors will utilize many metal detectors within the processing stream to both ensure reduced damage to processing machinery as well risk to the consumer. The first industrial level metal detector pioneered by Goring Kerr was introduced back in 1947 for Mars Incorporated.

Performance parameters for food processing

Factory automation - robotics palettizing bread When designing processes for the food industry the following performance parameters may be taken into account:

  • Hygiene, e.g. measured by number of micro-organisms per ml of finished product
  • Energy efficiency measured e.g. by ton of steam per ton of sugar produced
  • Minimization of waste, measured e.g. by percentage of peeling loss during the peeling of potatoes'
  • Labour used, measured e.g. by number of working hours per ton of finished product
  • Minimization of cleaning stops measured e.g. by number of hours between cleaning stops

Trends in modern food processing

Cost reduction

The fresh fish and seafood pavilion of the Rungis International Market, France Bottles on a conveyor at Prince Mountain Brewery in Donaueschingen, Germany

  • Profit Incentive drives most of the factors behind any industry; the food industry not least of all. Health concerns are generally subservient to profit potential, leading the food processing industry to often ignore major health concerns raised by the use of industrially-produced ingredients (partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils, for example, a well-known and well-researched cause of heart disease, that is still commonly used in processed food to increase profit margin.) Consumer pressure has led to a reduction in the use of industrially-produced ingredients in processed food, but the (often slight) potential for increased profits has barred widespread acceptance by the industry of recognized health problems caused by over-consumption of processed foods.
  • Often farmers take most of the burden in cost reduction because they're usually submitted to a monopsony by food processing industries.


  • Reduction of fat content in final product e.g. by using baking instead of deep-frying in the production of potato chips, another processed food.
  • Maintaining the natural taste of the product e.g. by using less artificial sweetener than was used before.


The rigorous application of industry and government endorsed standards to minimise possible risk and hazards. The international standard adopted is HACCP.


  • Rising energy costs lead to increasing usage of energy-saving technologies,[7] e.g. frequency converters on electrical drives, heat insulation of factory buildings and heated vessels, energy recovery systems, keeping a single fish frozen all the way from China to Switzerland.
  • Factory automation systems (often Distributed control systems) reduce personnel costs and may lead to more stable production results.


Food processing industries and practices include the following:

  • Cannery
  • Fish processing
  • Industrial rendering
  • Meat packing plant
  • Slaughterhouse
  • Sugar industry
  • Vegetable packing plant

See also

  • Dietary supplement
  • Food and Bioprocess Technology
  • Food chemistry
  • Food engineering
  • Food fortification
  • Food microbiology
  • Food packaging
  • Food preservation

  • Food rheology
  • Food safety
  • Food science
  • Food storage
  • Food supplements
  • Food technology
  • Nutraceutical
  • Pink slime


Women working in a cannery

Other sources

Dried bananas packaged in Ban Bang Krathum, Bang Krathum, Phitsanulok, Thailand

  • F bricas de alimentos, 9th edition (in Spanish)
  • Nutritional evaluation of food processing,
  • Food preservation 2nd edition, by Normal W. Desrosier

External links

ca:Processat d'aliments de:Lebensmittelindustrie es:Procesado de los alimentos fr:Proc d agroalimentaire hi: id:Pengolahan makanan kn: ms:Pemprosesan makanan pt:Processamento de alimentos simple:Food processing te: th: tr:G da i leme zh:

Source: Wikipedia | The above article is available under the GNU FDL. | Edit this article

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