Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Processed Foods - What does it Actually Mean?

Food processing is any technique that alters the natural state of the food. So why would you want to change the natural state? Food is processed for the following reasons:

  • It prolongs the foods shelf life
  • It reduces the risk of food borne illnesses
  • It can maintain or improve the texture and flavour
  • It can upgrade the nutritional contents
With foods, the term 'natural' does not always translate to 'safe' or 'good to eat'. Food spoils naturally when the microbes living on the food reproduce to a level that overwhelms the food. Processing is designed to stop this from happening by preserving the food  There are several ways to preserve food and in my opinion some are better for us than others.

  1. Temperature control - by keeping foods in the fridge or freezer can slow down the rate in which the microbes reproduce (good processing technique) 
  2. Removing the water from foods - all microbes need water to survive, remove the water and hey presto your food will live longer. Think dried fruits and smoked fish/meats (good technique) 
  3. Controlling the air flow - as well as water microbes need air to survive and reproduce. - Think vacuum packs (good technique)
  4. Chemical warfare - (the name says it all ' chemicals'....no thanks!) This is where chemicals are introduced to preserve the food. There are around two dozen chemicals that do this job. Don't worry I won't bore you with them all!
  5. Irradiation - this technique uses gamma radiation to prevent the growth of microbes. Again I don't know if I want to eat too many foods that have been zapped. 
As well as slowing the deterioration of foods the above techniques are also used to stop vegetables sprouting new shoots and delay ripening - is this not what fruit and veg is meant to do!

I have recently started buying all my fruit and veg from the local market and farm shops, I am pretty sure they use less, if any, processing techniques compared to supermarkets and I have never had food that tastes so good. Everything has so much more flavour, yes granted it doesn't live as long but that's the way nature intended. 

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