What is Food Processing?
Food processing is a way of managing the food supply. Food is taken in its natural state, preserved and modified so that it can be stored and consumed later. Without food processing, surplus food would be wasted in the harvest season and people would go through a famine every winter. Processing also increases the convenience of foods because it takes a form that is more convenient for the purchaser to prepare and store.
Types of Food Processing
There are many different methods of food processing but they all serve to extend the life of food by creating an environment where bacteria cannot thrive. They also serve to start breaking down the nutrients so that they are more accessible to the digestive system, shortening the time needed to prepare and consume foods.
Human society began with the first people to stand around a fire to cook and share their food. Cooking meat destroys bacteria and parasites that cause spoilage. Roots and stalks that would otherwise be inedible can be digested after cooking.
In modern times, foods are combined in cooking and packaged into meals that are already cooked and ready to eat when purchased. Factories have automated the cooking process so that food is sealed in cans or jars and heated to kill all bacteria. These foods can be stored for years without spoiling.
Wine, cheese, bread and yogurt would not be possible without the use of fermenting microbes. Fermentation is a process where foods are inoculated with safe microbes that prevent the bacteria that cause spoilage from thriving. Fermentation must have been discovered by accident when grains were left to soak in water and became exposed to natural yeasts. Today, factories prepare fermented foods under extremely sterile and methodical conditions so that there is consistency in the finished food products.
When food is dried, all the water is removed so that bacteria cannot survive. In ancient times, surplus meat from a hunt would be laid out on strips and dried in the sun. Today, beans, fruits and grains are dried to extend shelf life. Many liquid foods, such as milk or soup, are now dried industrially in order to reduce weight or eliminate the need for refrigeration. This can be done by spraying the liquid in a fine mist which leaves a powder as the water evaporates, or by freeze drying.
Freezing is perhaps the most modern of food processing methods. Frozen foods are typically processed close to where they are grown. Freezing occurs within hours of harvest, locking in nutrients for the consumer. Frozen foods are often processed into microwavable, single serving meals that can be conveniently heated for a quick meal.
Health Benefits of Processed Foods
Food processing is heavily regulated to ensure that the food is prepared in safe, clean conditions. Many foods also have supplements added to benefit the consumer. Rickets, a bone disease, has been virtually eliminated due to the addition of vitamin D to milk. Iron added to bread and cereal and calcium added to juices also help to make everyone healthier.
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Author Colin M: I recently got the chance to walk around a vegetarian food processing plant, where the food is made, cooked and packaged all on site and was amazed by all the varied < rel="external nofollow" a href="http://www.teknomek.co.uk/food--drink-processing-equipment/s15">food processing equipment that was used. It made me think what a huge industry this is and far more complex than I could have imagined.