History of Food Processing

The majority of the food we eat today has been processed. Before being consumed, more or less every food is prepared in some form. Food processing has existed since the dawn of time. We know that people have been using fire for at least 250,000 years, which coincides with the introduction of cooking as a method of food preparation. For prehistoric people, cooking increased the food's safety, digestibility, and palatability. During the ancient and medieval periods, more complicated varieties of processed foods evolved. Fermenting to sun-drying, pickling vegetables, salting and smoking meats, cheese-making, bread baking, steaming vegetables, and more were among the techniques used.

This accomplished a number of functions, the most important of which was to act as a barrier against microbial activity, which resulted in rapid food deterioration. When consuming fresh foods was unfeasible, processed foods became a big element of the human diet. This includes everything from normal seasonal shifts to agricultural disasters and even conflicts.

Two important processes were popularized in the 1800s; pasteurization and canning. These processes became vital to the history of food processing, making foods safer and much more accessible.

The mass-scale production and processing of food were only introduced in the late 18th and 19th centuries to cater to the military in large part. During the first half of the 20th century, Europe underwent severe malnourishment, caused, in large part, by the economic depression, World War I, as well as the onslaught of the influenza virus (the flu). As a result, mass food production began focusing on sustaining, which aided in the creation of pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals During this time, the global working middle class began to grow, resulting in an increase in demand for quick meals with a lengthy shelf-life. The history of food processing in the twentieth century was shaped by new procedures, new ingredients, and new appliances. Spray drying, evaporation, freeze-drying, and the use of preservatives make it easier to package and store a variety of goods. Artificial sweeteners and colors were used to improve the taste of the preserved foods. The home oven, microwave, blender, and other gadgets made preparing these meals a breeze. Food could be produced and packaged fast thanks to factories and mass production processes. Frozen dinners, instant noodle cups, baking mixes, and other widely popular goods owe their existence to these advancements.

Food processing has progressed more rapidly in the previous 200 years than it has in the thousands of years that human civilization has existed. Foods that are safe, accessible, and affordable, as well as healthy and environmentally friendly, will be the next difficulties to overcome as these processes progress.