Food processing: What is it?

Food processing are the actions to which a food is subjected and which modify its natural conditions, allowing its preservation and adapting its appearance.

The purpose of industrial food processing is to make available to the consumer public the variety and quantity of food that they request, regardless of the time of year and the availability of certain products in certain seasons.

It is important to know that the packaging and containers used for the storage, transfer and distribution of certain foods also play a fundamental role in processing. Because of processing, we can count on the possibility of enjoying a varied diet adapted to the dynamics of modern societies.

It is also possible to obtain products suitable for groups with specific health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity or diabetes. In addition, low-sugar, gluten-free, lactose-free, low-salt and fibre-rich foods have been developed.

What are processed foods?

Processed foods are foods that have undergone an industrial process that changes their nature and alters their nutritional profile. These foods range from those that have been minimally processed for ease of consumption, to highly processed foods (a frozen pizza or sweets).

How is food processing carried out?

Processing is carried out by applying various methods to modify the condition of the food to prevent spoilage and ensure future consumption. This action can be carried out in different ways:

  • Addition of chemical compounds: they delay or eliminate the proliferation of bacteria and micro-organisms that produce putrefaction of organic matter.
  • Delaying the action of enzymes as soon as they come into contact with other components: oxygen in the environment, for example, causes the food to change or lose properties.
  • Use of technology with various equipment and machinery that performs the work efficiently and on a large scale.

Types of food processing

Nowadays, there are a wide variety of ways of processing food for preservation, although all of them aim to improve the conditions of the food. The most common and most commonly applied in the food industry are:

1. Bottling and canning

A technique that stands out for its efficiency and consists of placing food that has been exposed to heat in a container and sealing it under vacuum.

2. Freezing

Most foods such as fruits, meats, vegetables, fish and many more can be preserved at temperatures below freezing. The freezing process must be carried out quickly to prevent the product from changing its taste and texture.

3. Addition of chemicals

Some chemicals kill micro-organisms and are added to the food in order to preserve it in good condition. Some of these chemicals are harmless to the organism, but others can be harmful.

In this sense, easy distribution, simplified consumption, preservation, visual appeal, taste enhancement and time saving are also sought with foods such as pizza, pies or frozen options.

The B-side of food processing

Once the advantages and benefits of food processing, such as preservation, additional vitamins and minerals, price and accessibility, are known, we have to focus on certain nuances that need to be taken into account. If processing is not carried out correctly, the addition of sugar, salt or fat to food can increase the content of these nutrients and compounds in people and cause damage to health.

And everything in excess has a negative influence. This is the case with ultra-processed products, which are mainly made with industrial ingredients and little whole food.

Some examples of ultra-processed products are chicken nuggets, crisps, soft drinks, hamburgers, instant soups, biscuits, popcorn or sugar bars.

We should be aware that many of these foods, especially the highly processed ones, are nutritionally unbalanced and lead to diseases such as hyperlipidaemia. At the same time, they are energy-dense, addictive, crowd out nutritious meals and dishes, and create a false impression of being healthy.

In contrast, there are many processed foods that are good for health, such as pure cocoa, vinegar, quality mustard, ground coffee, pickles, packaged vegetables, dried fruit and frozen baby vegetables.

Thanks to food processing technology, we can detect and control the quality of food. Through forensic engineering, we analyse the components and durability of the food, identify possible errors and offer a solution to guarantee a good product for consumers. In this task, food compounds play a crucial role, which are sometimes bioactive and provide a health benefit even though they are not considered essential for life.

In this way, it must be borne in mind that the processes used can sometimes be modified in an attempt to adapt them to reality and incorporate new technologies. Materials can also be improved in food processing in order to achieve a reduction in costs, time, errors and harmful characteristics.

Benefits of processed food

Industrial food processing makes it possible for urban populations to have access to basic food at a lower cost, provides us with safer food and a reduction in losses and waste. There are also other benefits such as

  • Food security
  • Food sustainability
  • Social development and inclusion
  • Food safety
  • Food quality
  • Resource efficiency
  • Lower cost of production
  • Retail availability
  • Convenience in meal preparation

Initiatives promoted by INFINITIA in the processing of foodstuffs

From Infinitia’s Materials Innovation team, the improvement of the quality control of a food after processing is promoted, so that there are some sample interventions. During food processing, its properties can be affected. It is for this reason that quality control with studies is necessary.

Among the most affected qualities are food safety, physico-chemical properties, sensory attributes or nutritional composition.

When carrying out quality control in food processing, INFINITIA’s technical team applies chemical techniques in the analysis of nutrient concentrations, such as UV-VIS spectrophotometry, and carries out a study of antioxidant capacity, phenolic compounds and carotenoids.

Through these food processing technology services, INFINITIA offers the adaptation of product analysis protocols, the design of an experimental plan selecting certain variables and the statistical analysis for the correlation of the results with the chosen variables.

Food processors and handlers must be concerned with applying the best preservation methods and techniques, as well as safeguarding the health of consumers and guaranteeing the good appearance, taste and nutritional values of the products. In short, this is what INFINITIA is working on.

If you want to know which are the best steps to carry out a good quality control and food processing, you can contact us.