The Definition of Food Manufacturing

by Devra Gartenstein - Updated October 25, 2018
Two gold sardine tins stacked at an angle

Food manufacturing and processing covers everything from simple processes to complex and sophisticated systems that use expensive equipment to create products bearing little resemblance to their original ingredients. The food processing industry includes home bakers who sell a handful of loaves to friends and neighbors, as well as multinational manufacturers that distribute mass-produced products around the globe.

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  • Food manufacturing is the process of taking edible raw materials and transforming them into food products that can be bought and sold.

Food Manufacturing and Food Production

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines food manufacturing as industries that transform livestock and agricultural products into products for immediate or final consumption. Except for salt, which is a mined mineral, virtually every other basic food ingredient falls under the scope of livestock or agricultural products. The key element in the BLS definition is the transformation of these original foods into other foods using equipment, recipes and food production techniques such as baking, fermenting or chemical processes. Food manufacturing and food production definitions differ in that the former refers to food products created with equipment and machinery, while the latter describes processes that could be performed by home cooks, albeit in smaller quantities.

History of Food Processing

Humans have been processing food from the earliest times. The fundamental process of roasting an animal that has been hunted is a type of food processing, as is the act of separating meat from bones and incorporating these elements into a stew. Early farming communities processed grains into bread, tortillas and beer. Once they began domesticating livestock, Neolithic humans processed the milk from these animals into cheese and yogurt.

Olive oil may have been the first manufactured food product, coming into production in about 4500 B.C. when farmers began extracting it from olives using mechanical presses. Because of its usefulness and shelf life, olive oil was also among the first widely traded food products. Sugar was first manufactured in about 500 B.C. by boiling and crystallizing sugar cane, and the Roman Empire was home to a thriving trade in garum, a savory condiment made from rotten fish. John Harvey Kellogg began manufacturing cornflakes in 1894; chicken nuggets were first manufactured in the 1950s; and food scientists first developed lab-grown meat in 2013.

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Food Manufacturing and Food Safety

Because of its scale, food manufacturing can be a source of dangerous foodborne illness. The pressure to make an operation profitable can lead to cutting corners and lack of attention to detail. Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration oversee food safety, but it is up to individual food manufacturers to ensure that food safety protocols are in place and are conscientiously followed.

A Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan can identify and address points in the food manufacturing process where food safety issues are most likely to occur. Food processors can create their own plans by creating flow charts that map the handling and processing of ingredients. Regulatory agencies such as the FDA also provide templates for HACCP plans.

About the Author

Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.

Photo Credits

  • canned fish studio isolated over white image by dinostock from Fotolia.com
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