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EUFIC conducted a consumer study to determine how participants in the UK understood processed foods. The study's topics are summarized in this Q&A.
What is food processing?
Food processing refers to any process that transforms fresh food into food products.
What are the different methods for food processing?
Traditional food processing can include heat treatment, fermentation and pickling, smoking or drying, curing, and modern methods like ultra-heat processing, modified atmosphere packaging, and pasteurisation. Below are some of the more common methods:
Heat is used to heat the food. Pasteurization is the process of heating food to a high temperature. Next, the food is packed and sealed in an airtight container. See our infographic to see the steps involved in canning tomatoes.
Under anaerobic conditions, the sugars are broken down by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. The process does not require oxygen, except for the oxygen in sugar. Fermentation is used to make alcoholic beverages like wine, beer, or cider. It also preserves foods like sauerkraut, dry sausages, and yogurt.
To reduce the activity of harmful bacteria, food temperatures are kept below 0°C. This process can be used for preservation of most foods, including fruits, vegetables and meats, as well as ready-to-eat meals. Are you familiar with the steps required to make frozen peas These steps are explained here.
Modified atmosphere packaging
Protective gas mixes are used to replace the air in a package. These include oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, which are gases also found in our daily air. They extend shelf life for fresh food products, including fruits, vegetables, meat, and meat products.
To kill microorganisms, food is quickly heated and then cooled. Raw milk, for example, may have harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. It is important to boil it at home or pasteurize it on a large scale to make sure it is safe for consumption. Pasteurization is used for preservation of dairy products and juices, as well as alcoholic beverages.
The heat and chemical treatment of food in order to preserve it. This can be done by burning wood or other materials. Smoked foods include meats, sausages, fish, and cheese.
Food additives are important in maintaining the freshness, safety and taste of processed foods. Food additives can be used for specific purposes. They may be added to food to increase food safety or maintain product quality over time. Preservatives, such as antioxidants, prevent oils and fats from going rancid while microbes are prevented or reduced by preservatives. There is mould in bread. Emulsifiers can be used to improve the texture of mayonnaise or stop salad dressings separating into oil, water, and other liquids.
What are the causes and consequences of food processing?
Grain crops such as wheat and corn are not suitable for human consumption in their raw form. They can then be processed into flour by milling or grinding. After that, they can be used to make breads, cereals, pasta, and other edible grain-based products. There are three types of flours, depending on their processing level. Wholegrain is preferred whenever possible. Learn more about the journey from grain to bread by looking at our infographic 'Gain on grains'.
Preservation, safety, shelf life and shelf life
Food safety is improved or ensured by processing. Pasteurization, air-tight packing, and preservatives are the main methods.
The nutritional quality of food can be affected in two ways. It can either enhance it by adding nutrients that aren't present (through 'fortification) or by lowering fats, salts, or sugar. You can also lose some vitamins and fibre, such as through over-refinement, heating, or freezing.
Modern time constraints can be solved by processing and packaging technologies that provide a variety of convenience foods such as ready-to-eat meals, bagged salads and canned fruits and veggies. These are quick and easy to prepare and can be eaten "on the move".