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What Is Processed Food? The Answer May Surprise You

Posted by OAFVC on Sep 28, 2018 9:00:00 AM

With all the health-food movements available today, competing for your grocery dollars, sometimes it can be challenging to distinguish fact from fiction. Processed foods can end up with a bad reputation, because we often associate processed foods with high fat, sugar and salt, not to mention additives, preservatives, and artificial colours and flavours. But not all processed foods are as unhealthy as you might think. Many healthy processed foods are made right here in the OAFVC commercial kitchen.

In fact, healthy fruit and vegetable processing is a return to the roots of the original intent of food processing, which began approximately 2 million years ago. After discovering that food could be cooked with fire, early humans also developed fermenting, drying, and salting to preserve food.

The original intent of food processing was the same as it is at OAFVC today: to create a safe, accessible, cost-effective, and reliable food supply to provide optimal nutrition to our communities.

As if navigating the world of processed food wasn’t complicated enough, food is now being divided according to how much processing it has received.


Minimally processed: this includes fresh, dry or frozen vegetables and fruit, nuts, meat, fish, eggs, milk, and culinary ingredients such as oil and sugar.

Processed: this refers to adding ingredients to minimally processed foods and include simple breads and cheese, and preserved vegetables.

Ultra-processed: this process uses refined substances and additives; most finished products have little or no food value.

If we use these definitions, then most of the products processed at OAFVC fall into the first two categories. So what is processed food? The answer includes something as simple as fresh fruits and vegetables that are washed and packaged before consumption (like bags of salad), or ready to eat foods like cereal, jam, nut butter and granola bars, or frozen foods like pizzas.

Food Processing Techniques Include:

  • Washing/sanitizing
  • Slicing/dicing/peeling/shredding/chopping
  • Cooking (oven or stovetop)
  • Cold pressing
  • Dehydrating
  • Centrifuge drying
  • Fermenting
  • Flash chilling/flash freezing

These small-scale food processing techniques are made easy in a commercial kitchen.

The question, “What is processed food” has sometimes lead to misconceptions about foods. Yes, processed foods include notoriously unhealthy foods like cookies, cake mix, and ice cream, but they also include minimally processed and unsweetened yogurt! Even treats and desserts are made healthier with fresh, local, organic ingredients.

Make Informed Decisions About Food Processing

If you avoided all processed foods, you'd barely be able to eat anything at all. And minimally processed or processed foods can be quite healthy. But it’s still important to make smart food decisions, like:

  • Buying processed foods created locally (like those created at OAFVC). It’s not just healthier for you, but it’s also better for the environment and local economy.

  • Always reading the labels. If you produce processed foods, OAFVC can help you label and package your foods so you can show consumers exactly what's in your products.

For More on How to Grow Your Food Processing Business

Download What You Need to Grow Your Agri-Food Business E-Book

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Topics: Food Processing