Take a tomato.
As soon as you’ve chopped it, your food processing journey has begun. Add a few more steps into the process in your kitchen and you have tomato soup. Or give it to a food manufacturer, with a few other crucial ingredients, and they can create and bottle a tomato sauce that can live safely on your shelf for months.
Indeed, food processing is any method used to turn agricultural produce and ingredients into edible, safe, and nutritious food and drink. This can involve heating, smoking, curing, maturing, drying, marinating, packaging and many more methods.
During food processing, manufacturers can make foods in many different ways by adding ingredients, to enhance flavour, to maintain good taste and texture, and extend shelf life.
Food processing can also improve the nutritional quality of the food, by adding vitamins and minerals, reformulating existing products to be more nutrient-dense, and bringing innovative products to the market.
Almost all foods require processing to some degree to be digestible (such as grains), safe (such as pasteurised milk) or available all year round (such as canned, dried or frozen fruit and vegetables).
By using scale for good, manufacturers can reach many more consumers, keeping food affordable while minimising per capita impacts.
It’s important to remember that humankind has been processing food for thousands of years, for example by using fire to cook meat, pickling or salting fish, drying herbs, or fermenting vegetables and beer.
And if you think about it, we are all still food processors today. Most of us chop, slice, grate, season, mix, cook or bake ingredients and foods in our kitchens every single day.
We all buy processed foods to stock our shelves and fridges, and we all eat processed foods when we visit restaurants, cafes, and bakeries.
In short, food processing, whether at home or at industrial scale, is central to our daily lives and an integral part of our relationship with food and drink.