Most of the thousands of food products that line the aisles of grocery stores have been processed. Even some of the fresh fruits and vegetables that find their way into your shopping cart have undergone processing before being put out for sale. Foods must be processed for different reasons and in different ways, depending on the nature of the food.
Food is processed for different reasons, one of which is safety. Microorganisms and bacteria can cause illness and even death, so keeping food safe is a must. Flavor, texture and overall quality of the food are also reasons for processing. Finally, food is processed to make it a convenient size and shape for eating.
Adding different chemicals to packaged foods is a common processing method. Chemicals added to preserve food and give it “shelf life” are necessary for foods to remain safe and edible after shipping and time spent on the store shelves. Salt, sugar, wood smoke, spices, monosodium glutamate and artificial sweeteners are some of the natural and man-made extras added to foods during processing.
Refrigeration and Freezing
Refrigerating and freezing foods are safety measures to keep bacteria at bay. Commercially refrigerated foods typically sit at 4 degrees Centigrade or 39 degrees Fahrenheit. To freeze food, the temperature of a commercial freezer is set to minus 18 degrees Centigrade or 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes the food to freeze quickly, creating smaller ice crystals than home freezing does (home freezers keep food at minus 10 degrees Centigrade or 14 degrees Fahrenheit). Having smaller ice crystals means the food maintains a higher quality. Uncooked fruits and vegetables must be blanched before freezing.
Pasteurization is a processing method used extensively in the dairy industry. Pasteurizing means heating the product to a specific temperature for a controlled time period to kill harmful organisms. Pasteurization is also used for fruit and vegetable juices. In large operations, the milk or juice is pasteurized in huge vats to process as much as possible at one time.