Food processing

There are slightly different descriptions and there is not one accepted definition among scientists.

According to the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), food processing is any method used to transform fresh foods into food products involving one or more steps.
Processed food’ is generally any food that has been altered from its natural state.

Food processing can involve:

  • one or a combination of various processes (e.g., washing, chopping, pasteurising, freezing, fermenting, packaging, cooking etc.) 
  • adding ingredients to food (e.g., salt, sugar or other additives)

Methods of food processing:

  • Traditional (e.g., heat treatment, fermentation, freezing, pickling, smoking, drying, curing)
  • Modern (e.g., pasteurisation, ultra-heat treatment, high pressure processing, or modified atmosphere packaging)

Food processing: Since ancient times

Any food that is cooked, seasoned, preserved, or combined with other foods, or is altered from its raw state has technically been processed.

Processed food is a part of the human diet since ancient times

  • About 2 million years ago humans first learned to cook (the most original processing technique), and then to transform, preserve, and store food-stuffs safely (using fermentation, drying and salting).
  • Processing transformed perishable raw materials. 

Food processing itself is not the issue!

  • A variety of crops abundantly grown globally could not be consumed if not processed.
    e.g. soy, coffee, cocoa, barley, wheat and olives.

Benefits of food processing

Picture from The European Food Information Council: ABC on food processing 

Acknowledging that food processing has positive effects.

Other benefits of food processing include:

  • prolonging shelf-life (e.g., sterilisation, addition of preservatives*)
  • making produce available all-year round (e.g., canning or freezing)
  • time saving (e.g., ready-meals, partially cooked foods, pre-washed salad bags)
  • making a food digestible or making components more available to the body (e.g., milling grains to flour, cooking beans and lentils)

* What are food additives?
Video from the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) 🡪