An overview of farm to fork processes

Ensuring a sustainable supply of food for the world’s fast-growing population is a major challenge. Food production is one of the key areas that requires action, alongside issues of food consumption, nutrition and food security. In addition, most people now live in urban areas some distance from the places their food is produced. This makes some kind of processing vital in order to preserve food and get it to the consumer in a safe way.

Currently, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and this is expected to increase to 68% by 2050 [1]. And although up to 70% of the food we produce is consumed in urban areas, most of it is produced a long way away from the consumer, in rural areas and in other countries.

A woman holds two globes. In her right hand the globe is labelled 2019 and has 7.7 billion written above it. In her left hand the globe is apparently heavier, is labelled 2050 and has 9.7 billion written above it

Predicted growth in the global population ©EUFIC

How our food is made isn’t as obvious to the consumer as it was decades ago. Since most of us live in big cities, we are often unaware of the complex processes that food products go through before reaching our plates. And we are so used to being able to purchase food whenever and wherever we are, that we take its availability for granted. Moreover, we demand certain characteristics in the food we buy: we expect it to be tasty and convenient because the reality is that our lifestyles don’t allow us too much time for cooking. On top of all this, we expect producers and manufacturers to guarantee quality, safety, environmental friendliness, an acceptable level of chemicals and affordability.

In order to fulfil these expectations, food products go through a complex food supply chain. This is where food processing comes into play to ensure not only quality, safety and affordability, but also availability. Products that travel a long distance to get to your table must get there in a safe and attractive form. Some of these processes are cleaning, sterilisation, preservation and refrigeration.

Mass production methods that ensure availability, and processing techniques that ensure food quality, are crucial to our modern lifestyle. They allow us to access products all year round regardless of seasonality and to make choices based on our preferences in terms of quality, price, appearance, taste, health, habits, dietary restrictions, safety, production methods, country of origin and brand name. You can probably think of more.

When we talk about food production, we have to take into consideration the global food system and all the steps that food has to go through before reaching our table.

The food system is illustrated as a circular process with pictures for each of the stages: Food production (a farm); Processing (a factory); Packaging (a production line); Logistics (a lorry carrying a load); Distribution (a filled supermarket trolley); Healthy people (a man and a woman); Waste streams (a recycling symbol)

The different stages of the food system ©EUFIC

Food production includes growing and harvesting crops and livestock, milking and fishing.

Processing and packaging includes cutting, cleaning, packaging, storage, refrigeration, refining, purifying, extracting, milling (of wheat, for example), pasteurisation, pressing, dehydrating, hydrolysis, hydrogenation, heat treatment and fermentation.

Logistics, distribution and retailing includes packaging, storage and refrigeration.

We will be describing some of these processes in more detail in Week 2.

Activity

Do you feel disconnected from the land where your food is produced? If you need some help answering this question, pick a food item from your store cupboard. Do you know what processes it has been through to get to you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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This article is from the free online course:

How is Food Made? Understanding Processed Food

EIT Food