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