Innovation in food processing

Tradition and innovation are often considered to be opposites, which makes innovation in the relatively traditional food market challenging. The food industry has enormous potential for innovation, but at the same time, it is rather slow to change and conservative in approach. Scientists and technologists are working together to create new solutions for producing, processing, and packaging food. The aim is to make food safer, healthier and more nutritious, tastier and more sustainable.

interior of a food processing plant showing three people working at computer screens on high tech machines, unpacking ingredients and adjusting controls

A modern food processing plant ©DIL

Innovation is affecting all the different stages of the food production process – from raw materials, to developing formulations, to processing. For example, innovative approaches to sourcing raw materials include the search for sustainable alternatives to palm oil and investigating dairy alternatives for vegan or lactose-intolerant consumers. Innovative approaches to processing include applying milder treatments to result in better nutritional profiles in the final products, reducing energy requirements of processes and cutting down on the waste produced.

Many traditional food processing methods include the application of heat, which kills pathogenic bacteria but can degrade health-promoting nutrients such as vitamins and antioxidants. Heating can also lead to loss of flavour and taste and change the appearance and colour of the product making it less appetising. However, thermal processing still represents one of the most commonly used methods for food preservation and enormous efforts have been made to improve and optimise the techniques. This Week we will introduce you to some new technologies that aim to reduce dependence on high temperature processing. As well as guaranteeing the safety of the final products, these innovative processes improve desirable characteristics such as freshness, nutritional content and texture. They may also allow us to reduce the use of additives or sugar, fat and salt.

Conventional processing methods have been successfully applied for many years resulting in safe food products for consumers. But the food industry must keep developing and adopting alternative technologies to ensure products continuously improve in quality (nutritional and sensory) and safety. Continuous improvement is also needed to reduce the environmental footprint of processing, reduce the amount of energy and water used and limit food loss and waste. And all this must be achieved at the same time as producing an affordable and convenient end-product.

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This article is from the free online course:

How is Food Made? Understanding Processed Food

EIT Food