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What is Food Processing?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Food processing is a procedure in which food is prepared for consumption. People often use this term to refer specifically to making packaged foods, but technically anything which transforms raw ingredients into something else is a form of food processing, ranging from grilling vegetables in the back yard to making television dinners in a food manufacturing facility. The sector focused on processing food employs large numbers of people, many of whom are unskilled laborers.

There are several purposes to food processing. The most basic goal is to prepare food which is palatable. This can include processing ingredients which are not safe to eat raw, flavoring foods to make them more interesting, and making dishes which comply with cultural and religions norms surrounding food, in addition to addressing issues such as allergies. Processing food is also usually intended to make food which is nutritious, and can include activities such as food fortification, in which vitamins and minerals are added to food during processing to increase the nutritional value.

Safety is also a major concern in food processing, especially industrial processing to create packaged foods which are sold commercially. These facilities can be easily contaminated and the contamination can quickly spread, causing widespread illness. Part of making food safe includes processing it to remove any potential risks, such as bacteria in milk, in addition to maintaining strict safety procedures to reduce the risk of introducing harmful organisms during processing.

In industrial food processing, these needs must be balanced with the need for preservation. Food which will be eaten in a few days needs to be stabilized so that it will retain texture and flavor in addition to staying safe. Other foods intended to be kept in dry storage for months or years must be specially processed so that they will not go bad. Some of the earliest forms of processing such as pickling and preserving foods echo the need to preserve foods effectively and safely which has challenged human cultures for thousands of years.

Many innovative techniques have been developed for food processing around the world to bring food to market while keeping it safe and flavorful. Certain processes are protected by patent and used only by people licensed to use the patent, such as the process behind Pringles® potato products, while others are widely used by everyone from home bakers to companies which produce diet meals on order for hospitals and institutions.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By dkarnowski — On Oct 14, 2010

@GraniteChief, What I appreciate your simplistic look at what food processing means to the modern day home food maker. The reality is that processed foods are actually coming out of factories and made on equipment that is both dangerous and made of materials that can harm human body.

Toxins from metal, petroleum lubricants, and other toxic materials are often found inside of a food processing plant. Dairy food processing is one of the biggest culprits of introducing other chemicals into our milk supply. The scary part is, are dairy farms are highly unregulated.

By GraniteChief — On Oct 14, 2010

I think some people overreact to the concept of food processing and what it means to our dietary needs. Often these individuals site claims of over processed foods creating cancer and spreading disease in our food markets.

Unfortunately this concept of what food processing is, is very vague. I can imagine that many of the readers of this article actually processes in their kitchen. That being said, is obvious that food processing can be as simple as shredding, dicing, were smashing the food too mix or consume with other ingredients.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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