When you think about how your food reaches the table, the first thing that comes to mind might be a farmer harvesting vegetables or milking the cows.
But there’s another side to the food industry that doesn’t get as much attention: food processing.
Every packaged item that you buy at the grocery store has to be processed between the farm and the table. From prepping the food to packaging and labeling it, the food processing industry is involved in the process every step of the way.
In 2017, the U.S. industry supported over 43,540 jobs. Each of these workers in the food processing plants helps to bring safe to eat food to the tables of millions of American households every year.
Let’s take a closer look at how some of your favorite packaged foods get made. Here are 10 fascinating and weird facts about food processing.
10 Fascinating and Weird Facts About Food Processing
Food processing doesn’t fit into just one category. Working in a plant processing meat products is a much different experience than working with organic vegetables, for instance.
The world of food manufacturing is vast–and there’s no shortage of secrets and weird facts to uncover. Here’s a behind the scenes look at some of the fascinating facts about food processing.
1. Ugly Food
Almost half of all food produced worldwide is thrown out. Anything from scraps to unspoiled food will be discarded during processing.
A lot of food is thrown out because it doesn’t fit a standard of appearance. While it’s perfectly safe to eat, fruit and vegetables that are misshapen or uneven aren’t seen as fit to be sold in a grocery store.
With all of the ugly food that’s wasted, manufacturing plants could completely solve world hunger.
2. Swimming Pools of Milk
The largest milk processing plant, Arla Foods in the UK, processes up to 6,300 gallons of milk every hour.
If the plant runs every day at full capacity, they can fill more than 900 Olympic size swimming pools every year. The milk used by Starbucks alone can fill up to 150 swimming pools in a year.
3. Consuming Chemicals
Did you know that over 70% of the foods that you eat are processed?
While most foods are considered processed by the FDA’s standards–any food that’s not a raw agricultural commodity is processed–7 out of 10 of all the foods you eat are altered with some kind of chemical ingredient.
There are close to 5,000 additives currently allowed in food in the U.S., and that number only continues to grow.
4. Membrane Filtration
One of the core parts of food processing when it comes to liquid and dairy products like juices, milk, or cheese is membrane filtration.
It’s a technique that uses a porous membrane–like a cloth filter–to separate particles in a fluid. The size of the pores in the filter depends on what’s being separated, but membrane filtration is mostly used to maintain the product’s flavor, texture, and nutrients.
Food processing filters can remove bacteria or sediment from the liquid without sacrificing the taste or nutritional value of the product. To learn more about the use of filtration in food processing, check out American Fabric Filter for more information.
5. Meat Slurry
Hot dogs have a reputation of being a “mystery meat.” They’re made up of a mix of all the weird meat parts there’s no way you’d eat on their own. But did you know that chicken nuggets are the same?
Chicken nuggets are made of “meat slurry,” a mixture of liquefied meat products. While there’s definitely some normal chicken breast in there, you’re also getting fat, bone, nerve, connective tissue, and epithelium.
6. Weird Extracts
Sometimes, products are made out of the most unlikely partnerships.
Certain extracts from products are used to craft the perfect taste, look, and feel of your food. For example, did you know that there’s seaweed in your ice cream?
In most packaged ice creams, you might notice an ingredient called “carrageenan.” It’s actually seaweed extract, used to thicken the texture of ice cream.
7. Insect Parts
It’s something we all know deep down, but nobody wants to talk about. Bits and pieces of outside things will get into your food–whether it’s organic or processed.
FDA regulations allow for small amounts of outside contaminants, including rodent hair, insects, and insect eggs.
For example, in an 8-ounce box of raisins, the FDA allows up to 10 insects and 35 fruit fly eggs.
Although it’s inevitable that some insects are going to get into your processed food, it might turn your stomach a little. Maybe it’s best if you just don’t think about it.
8. Meat Fillers
You’re probably sick of hearing about the myth of “pink slime” in meat, but there might just be a little bit of truth to that.
When you buy ground beef, a portion of it might contain a filler, often called “lean meat products.” While it might sound fine when it’s dressed up with that name, this is pretty similar to the “meat slurry” you find in chicken nuggets.
Next time you’re buying ground beef or turkey at the store, double check to make sure you’re not getting less than what you paid for.
9. “Fresh” Beef
When you pick out a nice red steak at the grocery store, you can be sure that it’s perfectly fresh. But how do you know for sure?
To stop meat from changing color as it ages, many food processing plants treat the meat with carbon monoxide to keep it red. It’s not bad for you and it doesn’t affect the quality of the meat, but it means that your steak might not be as fresh as you’ve been led to believe.
10. Frozen Vegetables
Although packaged produce is usually seen as less healthy than its fresh counterpart, this isn’t always the case.
Some fruits and vegetables are even healthier when they’re frozen. Both peaches and peas are picked and then frozen at their peak of freshness. Because they’re frozen so soon, food processing plants don’t have to add any preservatives to keep it fresh.
The Bottom Line
Impress your snack-loving friends with these weird facts about food processing. There are a lot of secrets that go on behind the scenes in the world of food manufacturing, and these are just a few of the fascinating facts about food processing.
Keep these things in mind the next time you’re grocery shopping–it might just help you make a more informed decision about the food you put into your body.
Looking for more tips and tricks to live your healthiest life? Check out our website for more!