A small product for the consumer - a giant process for the producer

Nowadays, there are 10,000’s of food products on the market and in a large part of the world, consumers can buy almost everything they like. You just ask for it in the shop or you take it from the display, shelf or cabinet in the supermarket. These same consumers rarely wonder how it has become possible that all these products are there and even at an affordable price and, honestly, most of them also take it for granted that the products they buy are safe. Why would they buy it if they would seriously doubt it?


There is, however, a long chain of activities that precede food products entering the shop. For produce, it is still possible that the chain is fairly short, from farm to shop, but for processed products, by far the largest part of what is available in the supermarkets, the chain is long and there are processes involved beyond the imagination of the consumer. A little can with tomato puree may come from a factory that is more complex than an oil refinery. The end product is “just” a small can, but, nevertheless, it contains one of the healthiest processed products, by many considered healthier than fresh raw tomatoes. Behind most small products are complex processes and all these processes must be done in such a way that the product, when it reaches the consumer, is safe and complying with food safety regulations. Producing tomato paste is likely to require processes such as mashing, mixing, pumping, canning, heating, cooling, labelling and packaging. Sugar, a simple product that consumers buy by the kilogram at a time and huge amounts of it annually (actually too much, see “Food and Health” under “I eat, therefore I am”), involves a cleaning process (to remove soil and dirt), shredding or mashing (depending on the raw material), milling, boiling, clarification, evaporation, crystallization, filtration, drying, weighing and packaging. Another “simple” product, milk, involves after reception of the milk separation, standardisation, homogenisation, pasteurisation (or sterilisation, depending on the required shelf life), hygienic or aseptic packaging in cartons or bottles (depending on required shelf life or storage temperature). You may want to try and improve such processes to make them more efficient, more sustainable or more economic. Experience shows that there is always room for improvement (30 years ago, low fat milk did not exist and today even zero-fat milk is available). And because there are 10,000’s of products, the variety of processes is also tremendous – enough choice for an interesting career.

 


This article was prepared by Huub L.M. Lelieveld of the European Federation of Food Science & Technology (EFFoST), Wageningen, The Netherlands.


 

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