Processed Foods and the New IFIC Tool Kit

November 26, 2010

Forty-three percent of primary grocery shoppers have a “somewhat unfavorable” (32%) or “very unfavorable” (11%) attitude toward processed foods, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in their “Understanding Our Food” Communications Tool Kit.

Forty-three percent of primary grocery shoppers have a “somewhat unfavorable” (32%) or “very unfavorable” (11%) attitude toward processed foods, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in their “Understanding Our Food” Communications Tool Kit. The Tool Kit is designed to equip food, nutrition and health communications with information and tools to help them communicate the facts about modern food production.

While only 18% of shoppers view processed foods with a “somewhat favorable” or “very favorable” attitude, further research indicates that consumers generally view processed foods more favorably once they understand what foods they include and the benefits they provide in our daily lives.

“Providing information about modern food production can help enable consumers to make more informed food choices. There is a lack of information about the benefits and contributions of modern food production, processing and technology. Hearing only one side of the story has led to misperceptions and the spreading of myths. Through the Tool Kit, we hope to bring to light the many benefits consumers enjoy as a result of our modern food system,” says Lindsey Loving, Senior Director, Food Ingredient and Technology Communications, IFIC.

The term processed foods often brings to mind a single category of foods that encompasses items like snack foods, sweets and carbonated beverages. In reality, processed foods make up a much larger category of items. According to the Tool Kit, “food processing” is actually any deliberate change in a food occurring between the point of origin and the product’s availability for consumption. That includes items that are canned or frozen, or products that are formulated to deliver a specific health benefit or other attribute. In fact, even raw foods that have been washed, chopped, dehydrated or pasteurized – including ground nuts and coffee beans – are considered processed foods.

There are many degrees of processing. Minimally processed foods are foods that retain most of their inherent physical, chemical, sensory and nutritional properties. For example, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, jarred baby foods, foods with nutrition claims on the labels (i.e. “low-fat” or “high in calcium”) and foods fortified with nutrients like fiber and vitamin D and foods are all considered minimally processed. 

In addition, processed foods include products that are “ready-to-eat,” like breakfast cereal, crackers, jellies, luncheon meats and granola bars, or products that are packaged to save time, like frozen meals, entrées and pizza. Foods that combine ingredients like sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives – usually to improve the safety and/or taste of an item (i.e. instant potato mix, rice, cake mix, sauces) – round out the processed food category.

“While some processed foods are more healthful than others, there are plenty of nutritious foods that are processed that can be part of a healthful diet; those that are not as nutritious are intended for our enjoyment and can still be consumed occasionally,” says Loving.

Food safety is another extremely important benefit of food processing. Heating foods (pasteurization is a common heating method) helps remove harmful bacteria; canning and freezing foods helps food stay fresh longer. Nutritional aspects can get a boost from food processing as well. Frozen vegetables can sometimes be more nutrient rich than their fresh counterparts because they are picked and frozen at their nutritional peak; juices can be fortified with vitamins. 

There is special interest today in how foods arrive at our tables, from how items are grown to how they are processed, but many of the facts about modern food production are not well communicated to consumers. Retailers can help by making information easily accessible to consumers and make an effort to provide both sides of the story so consumers can make informed decisions. Farmers are also a great source of information about how food is produced, according to the Tool Kit.

“The ‘Understanding Our Food’ Communications Tool Kit is full of science-based information that has been translated into actionable messages. It takes consumers’ everyday situations into account and provides helpful tips for how they and their families can eat healthfully,” adds Loving. “It also highlights many of the modern conveniences we enjoy today that wouldn’t be possible without the advances and innovations in food production and technology.”

To access the “Understanding Our Food” Communications Tool Kit, please visit the IFIC Foundation


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