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Food processing needs to be championed by industry

By Sarah Hills , 12-Apr-2012

Industry needs to boast about achievements in food processing as it provides a key role in sustainability and nutrition, according to Food Science and Technology Professor, Tiny van Boekel.

In contrast to common belief, food processing is good for nutrition value and sustainability issues, Boekel told FoodNavigator.com.

However he added: “The downside is people don’t really know anymore what is happening. They get alienated from their food.

“The food industry seems to ignore the benefits of their processing.

“People should know that what the food industry is doing is also in their own benefit, saves them time and is more environmentally friendly if you do it on such a large scale.”

Industry should ‘be proud’

Boekel made a plea to the food industry to be “much more proud of what they achieve and tell consumers what they are doing” at the recent 2012 Annual Symposium of the International Life Sciences Institute Europe.

The symposium called 'The 21st Century Food Chain', took place in Brussels at the end of March with topics including primary production and sourcing, processing technologies, food intake physiology and societal impact of food.

Boekel told this publication that adverts and marketing of processed foods tend to hide the industrial side of production and focus more on an artisanal impression.

But he argues that food processing “is necessary to reach sustainability” and from a food technology point of view, this is about using skills, resources and raw material as much as possible.

This means avoiding waste, using as little water as possible and reducing the use of fossil energy.

“If you want to do that in a way that makes a difference you can do that only industrially,” Boekel said.

He contrasted this to the organic production of food, without processing, which he argued was likely to result in more wastage or product spoilage.

Optimising nutrition

Similarly the professor said: “Most people tend to think that processed foods have lost a lot of nutritional quality. This is not true... The processes in the food industry are optimised to retain as many nutrients as possible. Some even become better digestible, such as starch and proteins."

“By processing you are making nutrients more available in general than eating unprocessed foods,” he said.

He gave the example of canned tomatoes or tomato paste, where he said the antioxidants present are “better” than in a fresh tomato where they are “locked in”.

However, Boekel argues that epidemiological studies tend not to take processed foods into account and instead focus on the nutritional value of foods in their unprocessed state.

He suggested that information on processed foods needs to be considered in epidemiological work and databases should be built to estimate the intake of compounds from processed foods.

Boekel has a PhD in Food Science and Technology and is a professor at the Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

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