Food Safety: ‘Ultra-Processed’ Food Saves Lives, Feeds Billions

March 11, 2024
Food processing also helps reduce food waste, assists with sustainability and ensures nutrient availability.

By Bryan Hitchcock of the Institute of Food Technologists

Despite ensuring families were fed during the pandemic's most difficult moments, processed foods are often portrayed as a villain in the vast global food picture. Yet, food processing has enabled delivery of more nutritious and safe food than at any time in human history, and food processing helps preserve food and extend shelf life, helping reduce food waste.

While many may prefer to focus on the ongoing debate over ultra-processed foods, a lack of understanding of food processing and why it is so important to addressing global food and nutrition security demands equal attention, as noted in a white paper from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

“Sustainable Production of Nutritious Foods Through Processing Technology” explores how existing and novel processing technologies can improve global food and nutrition security while touching upon the difference between food processing and food formulation; how food processing technologies, such as fermentation, can improve nutrient bioavailability and supplement plant-based diets; as well as why up-to-date and aligned regulations must be considered to accelerate the creation and adoption of sustainable food processing technologies.

With the global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, the demand for safe, nutritious, and accessible food will only continue to increase, as will the need to conserve natural resources. Processing technology can help bridge the gap between these two necessities.

Some of the challenges outlined in the white paper that the global food community must address to maximize the benefits of processing technology include a lack of up-to-date and aligned regulations, limited public-private funding support, unoptimized technology and inaccurate consumer knowledge about food processing.

With a growing global population, climate-challenges and unpredictable crises, such as pandemics, wars, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters, the time is now to future-proof the food system. Food processing is an essential bridge in the food system connecting farm to fork and beyond and ensuring food and nutrition security. Processing technologies offer a sustainable, scalable and affordable way to simultaneously improve the availability and nutritional quality of foods to help ensure food and nutrition security for all.

Numerous emerging technologies are focused on preserving food safety and quality while improving nutritional value and minimizing the impact to the environment. Further development, scaling, and adoption of these emerging technologies can contribute to a more nutritious, sustainable and safe food supply and improve global food and nutrition security.

However, there are challenges to overcome. New technologies often take many years and significant investment, but this can be accelerated with public-private partnerships and multistakeholder investment. Cost and system optimization are also needed to ensure affordability. Acceleration of regulatory approvals as well as adequate training and support of the workforce in the implementation of these new technologies is also essential.

Similar to the development of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) that ensure food safety, the concept and application of “Good Processing Practices” could be developed and implemented as standards that optimize nutritional quality and consumer acceptability of food using processes that are more environmentally sustainable. In addition to the embedding of sustainability and nutrition principles, these practices could involve a coordinated approach across the food value chain to achieve a future with greater food and nutrition security.

The above is from the executive summary of “Sustainable Production of Nutritious Foods Through Processing Technology.” See the full whitepaper at:

Bryan Hitchcock is IFT’s Chief Science and Technology Officer.

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