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Technology in Food Should Not Be Feared

As a dietitian with a passion for communicating about food production, processing, and technology, I’m often puzzled when I think about the readiness with which consumers embrace the latest mobile or electronic technology and yet, in some cases, become wary when it comes to technology applied to food.  While the benefits of modern food processing technologies such as pasteurization and crop biotechnology are well-documented in the scientific literature, skepticism remains. 

While consumers are more interested in where their food comes from, we are less familiar with the processes and technologies used in modern food production. So, how can we portray these technologies in a more positive light? 

Technology in Food Has Benefits For Consumers

International Food Information Council research shows that consumers are most interested in benefits of food technology that are relevant to them and their families.  While the benefits of the latest mobile or electronic technology – convenience, variety, accessibility, and quality – are immediately tangible, the benefits of food technology (which include the same benefits mentioned above!) are sometimes less apparent. As communicators, we have the opportunity to make the benefits of food technology and modern food processing tangible to consumers, including healthful convenience foods such as 100-calorie snack packs, single-serving bags of baby carrots and apple slices, granola bars, grab-and-go soups and yogurts, etc.

Technology Can Improve the Healthfulness of Food

Technology in food production can also offer benefits for health. For example, fortification involves adding to foods nutrients linked to improved health. Examples include adding calcium and Vitamin D to milk, folic acid to cereal, and omega-3 fatty acids to butter. In addition, a recent Institute of Medicine Food Forum workshop identified several ways food manufacturers are using technology to reduce fat, sugar and sodium levels in foods to prevent and reduce obesity and other chronic disease conditions.

Food Technology for Taste

Not surprisingly, taste is the most important factor for consumers in making food purchase decisions. Food processing and technology make possible the abundance of good-tasting foods we enjoy today. As cooking shows increase in popularity, secrets to delicious food like that of the world’s best chefs have come to light. For example, a technology called sous vide (“soo veed”) infuses flavor into food through combining “low and slow” cooking, vacuum-sealing and freezing technologies. When reheated, the food tastes like it was just prepared in a high-end restaurant!

As new food innovations and technologies continue to emerge and evolve, communicators have the opportunity to demonstrate that technology in food can not only make our food safer and more nutritious, but more affordable, convenient, and better-tasting. By relating food technology to these benefits, we can help reassure consumers that technology in food need not be feared. 

For more information on food processing and technology, visit:

Understanding Our Food Communications Tool Kit

This article, by Kerry Phillips, RD., first appeared in “Food Insight” on Dec. 22, 2010

© Food Safety News
  • http://buelahman.wordpress.com/ BuelahMan

    So pasteurization is better for you, than say, raw milk? Adding vitamins to foods, instead of eating foods full of those vitamins is superior? Or adding MSG to food makes it “taste better”?
    Is Phillips the Big Food corporate hack he appears to be?

  • jfiesta

    From your take, it is better to process the nutrients out of wheat, then add the nutrients back in by “fortifying” the product to give the product the nutrients it started with.
    In the case of Sous Vied, it is always a good idea to boil your food in plastic.

  • Steve Gilman

    Talk about the potential for Food Unsafety of the Non-Microbial Kind– it’s nice to communicate (ie put a positive spin on) all the technological advances that ENABLE industrial food companies to process and purvey their altered products — but really — how about labeling what’s ON and/or IN our food already and let customers decide. This is REALLY what is feared in the food technology world.
    What? Our food supply is laced with substances such as: Toxic applied and systemic pesticides. Food contact chemicals. Packaging and bottling compounds that leach into food. Synthetic food processing agents. Shelf life enhancers. Irradiation. Artificial colors made from coal tar. ETC. etc. etc. ????
    And then there’s GMO’s — comprising 70% of the food on supermarket shelves with more in the pipeline — independently untested; totally unregulated and coming to (or sitting on) a table near you now… not to mention all the environmental and genetic contamination effects left in its wake….
    And by all means. lets keep any communications about the ill effects (and illnesses) stemming from the Technological Diet out of the mainstream…

  • Jeremy

    There are good and bad aspects to food technology. It’s necessary because otherwise we can’t sustain the amount of people that we have on this planet, to preserve food so that it’s available longer. Your refrigerater, that thing that everyone takes for granted; it let’s you keep your food for weeks/months longer, that’s food technology too. Of course, the most healthful way to eat is fresh, but how many people can (financially/timewise) do that?
    Then there’s food safety, pasteurization, cooking, acidity, these things keep your food safe otherwise you’d see a lot of more food related death.
    But at the same time, there’s things like Bisphenol A in your metal cans and plastic lining. It’s a known toxic substance, but we accept it to certain levels. And there so much more chemical preservatives that does affect your body (long term studies?), but we accept it as necessary because we need to feed people.

  • Doc Mudd

    No doubt there were irrational chuckleheads who feared and opposed the horseless carriage, electricity and indoor plumbing. Probably more than a few who cowered and quaked as fire was first being brought into the cave.
    So far, though, the sky has never really fallen in spite of endless warnings and heart-felt assurances to the contrary.
    Seems there will always be some whose irrational fear of any invention (like the wheel, passenger jets or convenience food) sets them apart as incorrigible gloom-and-doom party poopers. These professionally phobic characters simply cannot be reasoned with. But, with time, many of them quietly come around to adopt and safely manage good, sensible technology for the advancement of themselves and their families.
    How many of you terrified anti-food-technology soothsayers are perched barefoot in a snowdrift, clad in fig leaves and dining on grubs right now? None? I thought so. I rest my case. No worries!

  • dangermaus

    You talk as if “Nutrition” is “figured out”, and if it’s not the case that rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc. spike whenever a country moves to a diet of processed foods.
    If a food item makes health claims on the label, the claim is probably taken out of context, meaningless or straight-up false. Don’t buy food that doesn’t look like food.

  • dangermaus

    @Jeremy,
    Your statement, “It’s necessary because otherwise we can’t sustain the amount of people that we have on this planet” is false. You’re buying into the self-praise of the agribusiness industry.
    It’s clearly the case that our current food consumption habits are heavily reliant on industrial technology, but think about some of the facts about how we farm now… More than 3/4ths of the grain we produce goes to feeding livestock – the land and resources used to produce that corn could go to producing other things. Moreover, if you read about people creating innovative, intensively-managed “grass farming” like Joel Salatin (read _Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal_), it might be possible to produce just as much meat as we eat now without feeding as much grain to cattle as we do.
    I like Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that meat should be more of a “condiment” to our veggies.

  • Doc Mudd

    Joel Salatin’s book might have been more appropriately titled; “Everything I do is Highly Over-Rated”. Here’s a pretty typical description of how he actually farms (well, cultivates and ‘farms’ yuppy tourists, groupies and pretentious food snobs, that is):
    http://www.sufficientself.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=5594&p=1
    Salatin is an opportunistic gas bag who ships a few muddy barnyard hogs into a small boutique market (Chipotles), thereby convincing easily defrauded armchair agrarians that he’s single-handedly revolutionized global agriculture. In reality, he makes his money talking and selling books to dreamers, not from farming. Hardly a production model that could ever feed the world.
    And, Thomas Jefferson would probably appreciate that – hell, Jefferson managed to gradually ‘farm away’ his own fortune and died virtually broke, even though Monticello profited from enslaved labor. (Hmmm, come to think of it, Salatin staffs his operation with ‘interns’, the next best thing to slaves.)
    I, too, admire Tom Jefferson, but mainly for his political intellect – I would never take seriously any of his business or agricultural advice.