What Are Processed Foods

From minimally processed food such as a salad mix or a bag of frozen fruits and vegetables to ultra-processed foods like instant meals or snack foods, processed foods make up a huge share of most people’s diets. To put it simply, processed food is any food that has been altered somehow during its preparation process. And almost all types of processed food have seen rapid growth in global demand. 

The overall increase in middle-class income growth and higher levels of urbanization worldwide have also driven a steady rise in processed foods’ sales. The global middle class has increased from around 1.8 billion people in 2010 to approximately 3.2 billion in 2020. Similarly, households with an annual income greater than $20,000 per year have increased by 54% during that same period. In terms of the processed food industry, a larger middle class also translates to more consumption. It is estimated that, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.0%, the processed food market will go from $53.2 billion in 2019 to $64.7 billion by 2024. 

What’s Considered as Processed Food?

Several examples of the most common processed foods will include bread, breakfast cereals, cheese, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, snack foods, frozen meals, soft drinks, dried fruits, canned vegetables, cold cuts, candies, etc. And as highlighted by this list, not all processed foods are a wrong choice for healthy eating. Some types of food will require processing to make them safe. Milk, for example, needs to be pasteurized to remove any harmful bacteria. Other foods will need processing to make them suitable for use, for example, seeds to make oil. 

Many processed foods have various ingredients added, such as oils, sweeteners, coloring agents, and preservatives. Some are also fortified with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or dietary fiber. In contrast others are only processed for convenience, such as being washed, chopped, and packaged for extended shelf life. Processing in the form of milk pasteurizing, vacuum packing meats, or canning fruits and vegetables can help prevent food spoilage and increase food safety. It should also be mentioned that even foods labeled as “organic” or “natural” can be processed to various degrees. 

The Benefits of Processed Foods

There are many benefits of processing food such as preservation, toxin removal, increased food consistency, streamlined distribution, and more. Additionally, food processing also enables the transportation of, otherwise, highly perishable foods across great distances, making them safe to eat by deactivating pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms.  It’s pretty safe to say that today’s supermarkets would not be able to exist without modern food processing techniques. The same can also be said about long voyages. Processed foods are usually less susceptible to spoilage than fresh foods and are better suited for transportation over long distances. 

When they first appeared, some types of processed foods helped alleviate food shortages and improved the overall nutrition of the population in certain parts of the world. As mentioned, food processing can also help reduce the incidence of various foodborne diseases. Raw foods, particularly meats, are far more likely to harbor dangerous pathogens, like Salmonella, capable of causing severe illness.  

It’s also important to keep in mind that today’s varied diet is only possible thanks largely to processed food. Transporting exotic foods and eliminating a lot of manual labor have provided the modern consumer with easy access to an incredibly diverse array of food types. Likewise, processing has also greatly improved the taste of the food we eat.

The mass production of food is significantly more cost-effective than the individual production of each meal from raw ingredients. As such, there is enormous profit potential for processed food manufacturers and suppliers. However, when it comes to the individual consumer, the most significant advantage is convenience as processed food has freed many people from spending large amounts of time preserving and cooking raw ingredients and other unprocessed foods. This increase in free time has allowed many to focus their lifestyle on other areas than food procurement and preparation. 

Modern food processing has also improved the quality of life for people with allergies, diabetics, and others who cannot consume certain food elements. Some processed foods will also add extra nutrients, in the form of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, that local foods in the area can’t provide.

The Importance of Food Processing

The primary purpose of food processing is to transform agricultural products into food. It may include grain grinding and turning it into raw flour, home cooking, or even more complex industrial methods to create convenience foods. The same principle applies when transforming one type of food into another, like sunflower seeds into oil. Some methods will play crucial roles in increasing food preservation and reducing food waste. In other words, food processing helps reduce the overall environmental impact of agriculture while also improving food security. 

As mentioned earlier, processed foods are not only microwavable or ready-to-eat meals. They are all types of food that underwent some form of change during preparation. As such, processing can be even as basic as drying, canning, freezing, or baking. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, not all processed foods are unhealthy, even if some of them are made to contain high salt, sugar, and saturated fat levels. 

The Three Stages of Food Processing

There are different levels of processing food, going from minimally processed food to heavily processed foods. These three levels are as follows:

  • Primary Stage – The primary level of processing is about turning agricultural products such as raw wheat or corn kernels and livestock into something that can be eaten. Multiple processes are included in this category, such as drying, winnowing, threshing, milling, shelling, and butchering, among several others. Deboning and cutting meat, canning fruits and vegetables, smoking fish, extracting and filtering oils, candling eggs, or pasteurizing milk also fall in this category. Spoilage or contamination issues during this stage of processing food can lead to serious public safety concerns as foods processed during this stage are used so widely. That said, this stage will contribute greatly to improved food safety and longer shelf life. Commercial food processing will also use control systems such as hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) to minimize the risk. Food producers can also use state-of-the-art cable and tube conveyor systems to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Among their many other benefits, cable and tube systems provide the reduced possibility of trapping food residue and minimize direct contact with food.  
  • Secondary Stage – Cooking is the most common type of secondary stage food processing. It’s about turning various ready-to-use ingredients into food. Bread baking is another example of secondary stage processing, as is wine making or beer brewing. Cheese or sausage making also fall within this category. 
  • Tertiary Stage – While most types of food humans eat are being processed to varying degrees, it’s typically the tertiary food processing commonly called “processed food.” These will include the so-called processed foods like breakfast cereal, frozen pizza, snack foods, TV dinners, airline meals, and more. 

Regardless of the processing level, food manufacturers will need to pay close attention to food safety standards while keeping their bottom line in mind. One of the most significant issues is in terms of food contamination. Luckily, however, Cablevey’s tubular drag cable and disc systems are enclosed and clean, using brushes, urethane disks, and air knives to mitigate material breakage. They ensure quality by not breaking the final product. They also ensure the integrity of any processed food blend that has multiple components in the mix.

In addition, tubular drag cable and disc systems can move food material vertically, horizontally, around corners, and at different angles, with a speed of around 42.4 m3/h. With fewer moving components and less frictions means more system uptime, while removable parts and equipment make for easy cleaning and maintenance. Cable systems also run on 7.5hp or less motors, which results in lower energy costs and an increased bottom line for the food manufacturer.

The entire system, including materials, and component parts, can come in several sizes, depending on every facility’s unique layout and requirements. They also include a full range of inlets, transfer systems, and cleaning equipment. And thanks to the high hygienic standards, low horsepower requirements, and easy maintenance that these systems feature, Cablevey’s Tubular Cable Conveyors ensure complete handling of food material from beginning to end.