Conventional or Organic? The Choice Is Yours

What Does Organic Mean?

Food Processors Promote Safety and Choice | Fast Facts| Resources

Low-fat, whole-wheat, reduced-sodium, gluten-free, organic, or all-natural? Whew! The vast selection of foods that line our grocery shelves can be confusing and daunting. Some consumers mistakenly believe that certain foods are ?good? and others are ?bad.? In truth, all foods?conventional and organic?can be part of a healthful diet. When making food choices for you and your family, remember that variety is key.

What Does ?Organic? Mean?
The term organic refers to how a food is grown and processed. It is not an indicator of safety or quality. To be labeled organic, foods must meet national standards, and all organic growers and processors must comply with these standards as well. For example, organic crops cannot be sprayed with most pesticides or fertilized with petroleum-based products. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products must come from animals that receive no antibiotics or growth hormones. Only farms and processing facilities certified by a USDA-accredited agency may call their products organic.

Food Processors Promote Safety and Choice

The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) encourages consumers to read labels carefully before purchasing any food item.

Consumers should avoid products such as juice and milk if they are not pasteurized (heat treated to kill harmful pathogens).

All food processors must follow strict government safety guidelines. FDA and USDA randomly sample conventional and organic food products for pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria) and pesticide residues. If any sample contains dangerous pathogens or unacceptable pesticide residue levels, FDA or USDA can order a recall.
Foods produced using agricultural biotechnology or irradiation cannot carry the term organic. However, food scientists now use biotechnology to engineer safe, disease- and pest-resistant products. Increasingly, processors are using irradiation to kill deadly pathogens. In fact, both FDA and USDA have acknowledged the consumer benefits biotechnology and irradiation offer. Excluding these technologies on otherwise organic products denies consumers of a beneficial food choice.

Fast Facts

* Organic does not necessarily mean low-fat, reduced-sodium, or vitamin-enriched. Like conventional foods, organic foods vary in nutrition content.

* Use the Food Guide Pyramid ( to select your diet and portions from the five food groups. You can choose organic and/or conventional foods to meet dietary guidelines.

* Read food labels carefully. The terms natural and organic are not the same. FDA and USDA have policies, but no set definition, for natural.

* The organic food market is growing. USDA estimates that there are more than 12,000 organic farmers nationwide.

* To carry the USDA organic seal, a food must be at least 95 percent organic.

(National Food Processors Association, NFPA)

(NFPA?s consumer website)
(U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program)

(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Crop Protection and a Safe Food Supply

Strict Regulation and Testing
21st Century Food Processing | Fast Facts | Resources

The moment a seed is sown, it begins a fierce battle for survival. The enemies are: fungi, bacteria, weeds, insects, rodents, and other pests that destroy 40 to 50 percent of crops before they reach the supermarket. Fortunately, America?s farmers have many ways to control pests and ensure a bountiful harvest. One highly effective method is pesticide use.

Pesticides are natural or synthetic chemicals applied to crops to control pests. Types of pesticides include herbicides (which combat weeds), insecticides (which combat insects), and fungicides (which combat fungus). Today?s pesticides greatly reduce crop loss, allowing farmers to grow more food on less land, conserve water, and keep food costs down.

Strict Regulation and Testing

Pesticides are stringently regulated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers pesticides (establishes how a pesticide can be used). EPA also sets tolerance levels (the maximum amounts of residues permitted in a food). Tolerances are always far below any demonstrated toxicity level. EPA also may cancel registration or revoke a tolerance?eliminate a specific use?if a pesticide is shown to pose unreasonable health risks.

Since 1986, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have purchased domestic and imported food samples from grocery stores and analyzed them for pesticides. USDA conducts pesticide residue testing on raw products and on some processed foods. If testing shows pesticide residues to be above tolerance levels, or if illegal residues are found, FDA or USDA determines what enforcement action is appropriate. FDA also monitors pesticide levels in animal feeds.

Pesticide manufacturers are required to test pesticides for toxicity before they are used on human food or animal feed. New pesticides undergo extensive research, development, testing, and review to safeguard consumer safety and health. On average, only one pesticide in 20,000 is granted approval. Federal, state, and industry monitoring provides a check that any trace pesticide residues are within the standards established by EPA.

21st Century Food Processing

Today?s farmers use fewer and less pesticides than ever before. Advanced computer technology allows growers to apply precise amounts of chemicals. Most growers also practice Integrated Pest Management, a method that combines pesticide use with environmental and biological resources. Other Integrated Pest Management tools include visual inspections, traps, and natural predators (?good? insects such as lady beetles that eat ?bad? insects such as aphids).

Before processing and packaging take place, the steps food processors take to clean raw food products and prepare fruits and vegetables for processing further reduce any possible trace pesticide residues. Correct time intervals between application and harvest also reduce residues.

Two recent advancements are revolutionizing agriculture: irradiation (exposing food to a controlled amount of radiant energy to kill bacteria and pests) and biotechnology (inserting genes into a plant to give it desired traits). In 1999, about a quarter of U.S. corn plants contained a gene that produces a protein toxic to certain harmful caterpillars. Pesticide use will undoubtedly decrease further as food scientists discover improved methods of crop protection.

Fast Facts

* EPA has prepared a brochure that provides consumer information about pesticides and may be found in grocery stores.
* By washing and peeling food, you can reduce the amount of trace pesticide residues that may be present.
* Trace amounts of residue in foods have not been shown to pose health risks. In fact, eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains decreases your chances of developing health problems.

(National Food Processors Association, NFPA)

(The National Food Laboratory, Inc., helps processors test for pesticide residues.)

(Croplife America)

(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Food Allergies

True Food Allergies | Food Intolerance
Fast Facts | The Food Industry’s Role | Resources
True Food Allergies

Approximately 6?7 million Americans have a food allergy. A person is said to have a food allergy when his or her body?s immune system reacts adversely to a food ingredient?a protein. Among adults, the most common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds), fish, and shellfish. Among children, allergy to milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, and wheat are more common.
Symptoms include skin irritations (rashes, hives, eczema), nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath. Some people may experience a rare but potentially fatal condition called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis occurs when a food ingredient triggers a reaction throughout a person?s body. Symptoms can include tongue itching and swelling, swollen throat, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, lower blood pressure, and unconsciousness.

Symptoms of food allergy vary among different people. What?s more, a person may experience different symptoms?ranging from mild to severe?each time he or she eats a food. Remember, all food allergies are potentially serious. If you believe you or a family member may have a food allergy, consult a board-certified allergist right away.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerance and food sensitivity, which do not involve the immune system, are more common than food allergy. They occur when the body cannot metabolize, or digest, a food, for example. Symptoms may include diarrhea and cramping. Lactose intolerance (inability to digest milk) is the most common type of food intolerance.
Fast Facts

* More children than adults have food allergies (6?8% vs. 1?2%)

* Allergic reactions commonly occur in the mouth and throat, digestive tract, and skin.

* Eight foods cause 90% of all food allergic reactions. They are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.

* There is no cure for food allergies. Reading labels and avoiding the problem food is the only way to prevent a reaction.

* Food intolerance usually worsens with age. Food allergies sometimes (but not always) disappear with age.

* Using biotechnology, scientists may one day be able to remove allergy-causing food proteins.

The Food Industry?s Role
The food industry takes the issue of food allergies very seriously. The National Food Processors Association (with help from its Member companies) has published a Code of Practice and Food Allergen Labeling Guidelines to help all food companies manage food allergens and protect food allergic consumers. Food companies will also use these guidelines to educate consumers, food service employees, business partners, and others about food allergies.

(National Food Processors Association)

(Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network)
(American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology) A list of cookbooks, with ordering information, for people with food allergies.
(Food and Drug Administration) Consumer fact sheet.
(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Food Irradiation

How Does Irradiation Work? | Is Irradiation Safe?
How Consumers Can Help | Fast Facts | Resources

America?s food supply is one of the world?s safest and most wholesome, thanks to the rigorous production, sanitation, and inspection procedures used by food companies. Food processors continue to seek new and effective ways to combat foodborne illness. Harmful pathogens (that is, bacteria or germs) such as Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 can cause severe illness and even death. Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to foodborne illness.
Fortunately, today?s food processors have another safe, proven tool in their arsenal for reducing dangerous pathogens: food irradiation.

How Does Irradiation Work?
Food is briefly exposed to a controlled amount of radiant energy. Energy waves pass through the food and inactivate bacteria and other pathogens. This process greatly reduces the number of harmful bacteria, parasites, and fungi in the food. Irradiation also slows spoilage. Irradiated strawberries stay fresh up to three weeks; untreated berries go bad in about five days.

Is Irradiation Safe?

Yes. In fact, many people compare food irradiation to an airport x-ray machine; the x-rays do not make your suitcase radioactive or change its look or feel.

Scientists have studied irradiation for more than 50 years and conclude that it poses no health risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Medical Association, and World Health Organization agree that irradiated foods are safe. Forty countries now permit food irradiation. The U.S. government allows irradiation to be used on a variety of foods, including meat and poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, and spices.

How Consumers Can Help

Food irradiation does not replace safe food handling practices. You can reduce the risk of foodborne illness by following a few simple steps:

  1. Always thaw meat in the refrigerator.

  2. Wash your hands well before preparing foods.

  3. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods and food-contact surfaces, such as counters or cutting boards.

  4. Cook food, especially meat and eggs, completely.

Fast Facts

* Irradiation does not make foods radioactive. Irradiated foods look, smell, and taste like traditionally processed foods?and they are equally nutritious!
* Food irradiation does not replace traditional food safety or inspection methods used by modern food processors.
* The FDA requires irradiated foods to be labeled. Look for the international radura symbol (green petals in a broken circle) and a statement that the food has been irradiated.

(National Food Processors Association) Click on Fact Sheets.
(Centers for Disease Control)
(American Dietetic Association)
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

Food Packaging

New Kinds of Packaging | Shelf Life
Product Dating | Fast Facts | More Information

Consumer food packaging has an important job to do. Much like the ever-vigilant police officer, it preserves, protects, and defends food from its environment. Packaging also makes transport of food possible. Packaging comes in a variety of shapes and materials and includes cans, glass, semi-rigid and flexible plastic containers, fiber boxes, metal foils, pouches, paper cartons, cellophane, and much more.

New Kinds of Packaging

Stand-up pouches of tuna are an example of a newer kind of consumer food packaging. Pouches are convenient, lightweight, and recloseable, and their major advantage is that thermal processing (heat processing) in plastics takes much less energy than processing in cans. This can translate to better tasting food.

Plastics can also offer extended shelf life to highly perishable foods such as fresh vegetables and fruit because the atmosphere in the package can be controlled to minimize the normal rate of product deterioration?made possible through the technology of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). For example, ready-to-eat lettuce in plastic bags is only possible because of MAP. Lettuce begins to deteriorate immediately upon shredding. MAP slows that process.

Shelf Life

Many processed and packaged foods are shelf stable, which means that they do not require refrigeration until opened. These items are often referred to as nonperishable for these reasons. Their shelf life is evaluated in terms of the quality of the product. Canned foods can last for years, because shelf stable foods experience a very slow rate of organic change. After several years, however, the product may lose taste and color.
Product Dating

The dating of shelf stable foods is done on a voluntary basis for all food products except baby food. Consumers will see products marked with dating terms such as ?best before,? ?best-if-used-by,? ?sell by,? and ?use by.? The ?best before? or ?best-if-used-by? date is the date recommended for best flavor and quality of a product. It is not a safety date. A ?sell by? or ?expiration? or ?use by? date tells a customer how long a store should display the product for sale. Purchase products before the ?sell by? or ?use by? date. A product can be safely used after the ?sell by? date; however, do not use a product beyond the ?use by? date.

Additionally, consumers should note that products in slightly dented cans may be consumed as long as there are no leaks and the product appears wholesome. Do not consume products from severely dented, leaking, or swollen cans or jars.

Fast Facts

* Packaging materials, just like foods, are tested to be sure they are safe.
* Canning foods dates back to the time of Napoleon.
* The military developed plastic pouches for ?meals-ready-to-eat? in the 1950s. They could be conveniently carried in a pocket and did not need refrigeration.

More Information
(National Food Processors Association, NFPA)

(NFPA?s consumer website)

(Canned Food Alliance) FAQs, health and nutrition information, recipes.
(Flexible Packaging Association)
(Institute of Packaging Professionals)

Food Safety: We All Have a Hand in It

The Food Industry’s Role | At-Home Safety Guidelines | More Information

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the United States there are an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness. An estimated 325,000 of these cases lead to hospitalization and, for 5,000 people, the illness leads to death. The government defines foodborne illness as the result of eating food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins.
Many cases of foodborne illness are preventable. Consumers can play a big part in prevention. Consumers as well as retail food preparers have a great deal of power to eliminate harmful bacteria with a few simple safety strategies. As the final handlers of food, they have control over how to store it, prepare it, cook it, and, most important, whether or not to eat it.

The Food Industry?s Role

Food companies are dedicated to food safety, and rigorously monitor processes and test their products. In many cases, harmful bacteria enter food after the food has left the food processing plant?usually when consumers handle, store, and prepare the food improperly.

Consumers should always follow the food manufacturer?s cooking and storage instructions found on the product label. Many labels also tell if a product was pasteurized (heat treated) to kill harmful bacteria.

At-Home Safety Guidelines

In many cases, it is obvious when food is spoiled. If your food smells unusual, or if the container appears abnormal (swollen, leaking product), discard it immediately. If there is evidence of package tampering, discard the food immediately and report it to authorities. Make sure to refrigerate shelf-stable foods once you have opened them.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education, a coalition of industry, government, and trade groups, offers the following steps for keeping foods safe.

* Clean?Wash your hands in hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before preparing food, after using the bathroom, changing diapers, cleaning litter boxes, and handling pets. Wash cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils after preparing each food item. Consider using paper towels rather than cloth to avoid spreading bacteria.

* Separate?Most foodborne illness is caused by cross-contamination. Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood (and their juices) from other foods. Store these items on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so juices will not drip onto other foods. Use separate cutting boards for meats. Never place cooked food, including meat, on a surface that previously held raw meat.

* Cook?Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat and poultry cook thoroughly. (Clean the thermometer after each use.) Avoid rare and medium-rare ground beef, which can harbor harmful bacteria. Always cook egg yolks and whites until firm. Cook fish until it flakes with a fork. Proper heating temperatures are 145°F (steak and roast), 160°F (ground beef), 165°F (soups, sauces, gravy, and leftovers), and 180°F (whole poultry).

* Chill?Experts recommend setting the refrigerator at 40°F and the freezer at 0°F. Remember to refrigerate leftovers within two hours after eating. Defrost and marinate foods in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. Do not overstock your refrigerator. Overstocking keeps cold air from circulating to all the foods inside.

More Information
(National Food Processors Association, NFPA)

(NFPA?s consumer website)
(Partnership for Food Safety Education)

(gateway to government food safety information)
(Foodborne Illness Education Information Center)

Foodborne Illness

Symptoms | Food Processing Makes Food Safe
How Can I Help? | Fast Facts | More Information

Foodborne illness is caused by eating foods or beverages contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 300,000 Americans are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illness. Some harmful foodborne pathogens include Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Anyone?young or old, weak or strong?can get sick from eating contaminated food. However, infants and children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems (due to HIV, diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses) are at increased risk of becoming ill.


Diarrhea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of foodborne illness. Most symptoms disappear after several hours to a day or two. In severe cases, excessive fluid loss can cause dehydration, which can lead to dizziness, thirst, and fainting. Some illnesses can be life threatening.

Food Processing Makes Foods Safe

Food processing companies take many steps to keep foods safe. Many heat foods (cooking, pasteurizing, canning) to kill bacteria. Processors also carefully monitor each processing step where safety is critical. Monitoring procedures may include periodically checking cooking temperatures and testing food contact surfaces for harmful bacteria.

How Can I Help?

Most illnesses occur when consumers handle foods improperly. Below are safety tips for consumers from the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

* Separate?Bacteria are spread through cross contamination (when a raw food or its juices, especially meat and seafood, touches another food). Always separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods.

* Soap Up?Wash your hands in hot soapy water before preparing food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, cleaning litter boxes, and handling pets. Wash cutting boards, knives, utensils, and counters after preparing each food item.

* Heat It Up?Cook all meats, including ground beef, thoroughly to kill bacteria. Cook fish until it is opaque and flakes easily. Make sure the egg yolk and white are firm, not runny.

* Chill Out?Refrigeration keeps bacteria from multiplying. Health officials recommend keeping your refrigerator at 40°F and your freezer at 0°F. Promptly refrigerate grocery items and leftovers. Thaw and marinate all meats in the refrigerator? not on the counter.

Fast Facts

* Foodborne illness should not be confused with food allergy or food intolerance. Food allergy is a negative reaction to proteins in certain foods that only a few people experience. Foodborne illness can affect anyone.
* Symptoms may not appear for hours, days, or even weeks. The last food you ate is probably not to blame.
* Some bacteria are everywhere. Listeria monocytogenes has been found in soil, water, sewage?even on dishcloths, toothbrushes, and counters.

More Information
(National Food Processors Association, NFPA)

(NFPA?s consumer website)
(Partnership for Food Safety Education)

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

(gateway to government food safety information)

Foods and Weight Management

Processed Foods: Good Choice | Fast Facts | Resources

Americans spend $33 billion annually on weight control products. Lured by promises of the ?magic bullet? of quick weight loss, many people try?and fail?the latest fad diets. The reason? Popular weight loss diets limit choices and often restrict entire food groups. Dieters become frustrated and never learn to adopt lifelong dietary patterns for health.

Today, over 60 percent of Americans are overweight, which contributes to risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and cancer.

Scientific research shows that the only way to safely and permanently maintain a healthy weight is both through regular physical activity and a balanced diet. The American Dietetic Association defines a balanced diet as one that includes foods from all groupings in moderation. Food scientists and nutritionists agree that processed foods can be part of a healthful diet.

Processed Foods: Good Choice

Processed foods are nutritious; indeed, often as nutritious and ?healthy? as fresh. And processing provides an additional measure of safety. Heat processing kills bacteria in raw produce and meat. Fruits and vegetables are harvested at the peak of freshness and, in the shortest time practicable, they are processed and packaged for maximum goodness.

The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) and its food processor companies are leading efforts to educate consumers and government. NFPA supports expanded nutrition and physical education programs in schools and communities. NFPA companies also use the Food Guide Pyramid and Dietary Guidelines for Americans for food and nutrition education and product development.

* Stay Active?Getting regular physical activity and maintaining healthy weight are both needed for good health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days during the week. Children should get 60 minutes of activity most days during the week. Two activities that are beneficial are aerobic exercises, which speed your heart rate and breathing, and strength and flexibility exercises. The Guidelines are available at:

* Pyramid Power?The Food Guide Pyramid can help you make wise food choices. The Pyramid includes foods from the five food groups. Use the Food Guide Pyramid to enjoy both fresh and processed foods. And, remember, eating a variety of foods from all groups provides a balanced diet.

  Go to:

* Just the Facts, Please?The Nutrition Facts
  food label has information you need to build a healthful diet. The food label contains valuable nutrition information, including serving size, number of calories, amounts of fat, carbohydrate, and protein, and key vitamin and mineral content. The food industry encourages consumers to read food labels and learn how to make healthful choices that include processed foods as part of a well balanced diet, along with exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Fast Facts

* All foods can contribute to a healthful diet when eaten in moderation and combined with appropriate physical activity.
* Food processors now offer many reduced-fat, low-sodium, and sugar-free food products for consumers with varied dietary needs.
* The National Cancer Institute says that consuming five or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables (including processed) may reduce the risk of cancer. Go to:
* Forget the ?five-pounds-a-week? diet plan. Gradual weight loss is more likely to be permanent and healthier.


(American Dietetic Association)
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
(USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion)

Imported Foods: A World of Choices

Are Imported Foods Safe? | Government Regulations
Different Processes, Same Results | The U.S. Food Industry’s Part
More Information
Americans enjoy the world?s safest and most varied food supply? which comes from all over the world. From North African dates to Brazilian palm hearts, your local grocer sells hundreds of products that are grown, processed, and/or packaged outside of the United States.

Are Imported Foods Safe?
All imported food products must meet the same stringent standards as domestic products. They must be safe, wholesome, and grown and processed in sanitary conditions. Also, foods cannot be adulterated?that means if the label says ?100% guava juice,? the content must be 100 percent guava juice (and not 50 percent guava/50 percent pear juice).

Government Regulations

Two federal agencies oversee food imports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates most foods, except meat and poultry. Companies wishing to import to the United States must file a notice with the U.S. Customs Service, which forwards the paperwork to FDA. After review, FDA may analyze product samples to ensure that the food meets health, safety, and labeling standards.

Some foods require special processing for safety. Companies that export these foods must comply with strict FDA rules. Importers of low-acid canned foods (for example, green beans or mushrooms) must submit facility and processing information for FDA?s review. Companies that import milk and cream products require a special permit.

FDA also can remove imported food products from the market if the agency suspects tampering.

Like FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that all imported foods meet strict safety, wholesomeness, and labeling standards. Foreign countries must complete a two-step process before their processors may import meat products. First, the country must be FSIS certified. This means that USDA?s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
has determined that the country?s inspection procedures and regulatory standards are equivalent to those in the United States. Second, the exporting country must certify that the importing company follows processing and safety standards comparable to U.S. standards.

Different Processes, Same Results
Food processing methods vary. A company in France may configure its assembly lines differently or call its inspection program by a name other than that used in Japan or Canada. Yet, despite differences, each company is responsible for producing safe food. In food processing, it is the outcome (a safe, wholesome, nutritious product) that counts!

The U.S. Food Industry?s Part

The U.S. food processing industry plays a crucial role in keeping imported foods safe. U.S. food processors conduct onsite audits of their overseas trading partners? facilities and provide training. Representatives from U.S. food companies and the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) take part in Codex Alimentarius (a global organization that develops food safety codes and international standards).

Consumer safety and satisfaction are the U.S. food industry?s top priorities. NFPA and its Members have urged the federal government to adopt the following recommendations to ensure imported food safety:

* Do not allow imported foods rejected at one port to be sold at other ports.
* Destroy all imported foods that may be unsafe.
* Focus on individual product safety, not on country of origin.

More Information
(National Food Processors Association)
(FDA/USDA Presidential Initiative on the Safety of Imported Foods)
(Codex Alimentarius)

Processed Foods: Safe, Convenient, and Nutritious

Processed vs. Fresh | Safety Regulations
Industry’s Progress | Fast Facts | Resources

Food processing is a $500 billion industry in the United States. America?s food processors offer a nearly limitless supply of foods, including fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, juices, and specialty items. These items are packaged in various ways to meet consumer demand for safety, convenience, and nutrition. The most widely used processing methods include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration (drying), and aseptic processing (such as drink boxes).

Processed vs. Fresh: The Facts

Many consumers mistakenly believe that fresh food is safer and more nutritious than processed food. Scientific studies demonstrate that processed foods are just as nutritious and safe.

Processed food ingredients are harvested when they are at peak freshness to ?lock in? nutrients and improve taste. Fresh foods, on the other hand, often lose vital nutrients before they reach the consumer. Transportation time and poor storage conditions can sometimes cause fresh foods to lose nutrients.

Processing technologies are designed to rid foods of harmful bacteria that can cause illness. Heat treatments such as pasteurization rid juice and milk of dangerous organisms, including E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. A 1996 E. coli outbreak that sickened dozens of people was caused by unpasteurized apple juice.
Cooking and other heat treatments also make foods shelf stable (do not need refrigeration before opening) by destroying spoilage organisms. Industry takes effective steps to make sure their processing steps keep food safe.

Safety Regulations

In addition to industry self-policing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate processed foods.

These agencies inspect food plants to ensure that foods are safe and are processed under sanitary conditions.

Some foods require special processing for safety. Natural acids in foods such as tomatoes inhibit harmful bacteria from growing. Companies that process low-acid canned foods (for example, green beans or mushrooms) must allow FDA to review their processing methods.

Meat, poultry, seafood, and juice processors are now required to use a food safety system called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). HACCP is a science-based, seven-step process that helps processors identify where foods may be contaminated in the process. Using HACCP helps companies prevent foodborne hazards.

Industry?s Progress
America?s food processors strive to provide the world?s safest products. Working with the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), processors are making many scientific and technological advances. Each year, NFPA?s scientists conduct important research to improve processing safety as well as food quality. NFPA?s Food Processors Institute (FPI) also instructs food processing professionals on thermal processing methods and HACCP.
Fast Facts

* According to FDA, 98 percent of juice on the market today has been pasteurized.
* The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed HACCP in the 1960s to make foods safe for space travel.
* FDA recommends that consumers purchase only pasteurized dairy products.
* Some food processors use state-of-the-art technologies such as irradiation to kill dangerous pathogens that occur in foods.


(NFPA?s consumer website)
(Food and Drug Administration) HACCP backgrounder

Securing America?s Food Supply

Government and Industry Work Together
The Consumer’s Role | More Information

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax outbreaks have raised security concerns among Americans. Some consumers have begun to ask questions about the safety of the nation?s food supply?especially about bioterrorism (intentionally contaminating the food or water supply).
Although America?s food supply is unquestionably one of the world?s safest, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently stated that the risk of an attack is unknown. To reduce the threat of an attack, America?s food growers, food processors, and the federal government are working to enhance food security. Together?with the help of vigilant consumers?we will continue to enjoy a safe, secure, and abundant food supply.

Government and Industry Work Together

Government agencies and the food industry have worked together to protect the nation?s food and water supply for years?long before the September 11 terrorist attacks upon America.

Government preparedness includes disease surveillance and outbreak response activities. The food industry has long addressed not only spoilage and contamination of foods, but also intentional tampering.

Following September 11, government and industry are reviewing food security and making further improvements. New programs are designed to increase security and strengthen coordination and communication of agencies in case of an emergency. Individual food companies are reviewing and updating their own security plans as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently developed Food Security Preventive Measures Guidance to help food companies assess their security operations.

Within days of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) formed the Alliance for Food Security, a partnership of nearly 100 agricultural, food industry, and government organizations. NFPA developed a Food Security Checklist for use by food processors and suppliers, which asks a series of important questions about food plant operations. The Association also developed a security and assessment planning guide for food companies. The guide uses what is called the Threat Exposure Assessment and Management (TEAM) process, which can be customized to any part of the food chain.

The Consumer?s Role

Consumers have control over the foods they choose. Always make sure food packages are intact before opening them. If the container is damaged, dented, torn, or appears to have been opened and resealed, dispose of it immediately. Also be alert for abnormal odor, taste, texture, and appearance.

It is important to follow food safety recommendations every day. Wash your hands and utensils before preparing foods. Since bacteria are spread through cross-contamination (when a raw food, or its juices, touches another food), always separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods. Cook foods thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria. Refrigeration keeps bacteria from multiplying: Keep your refrigerator at 40°F and your freezer at 0°F, and promptly refrigerate grocery items and leftovers.

In case of a disaster or emergency, you should have at least three days? worth of food and water. Good food choices are shelf-stable processed foods (do not need refrigeration until opened) and foods that do not need heating. Every year, replace and replenish your emergency food and water.

More Information
(National Food Processors Association, NFPA)

(NFPA?s consumer website)
(FDA website with a link to bioterrorism)
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Information on bioterrorism and preparedness.

Understanding Food Labels

Food Labels | Food Processors Get Involved | More Information

Food processors use the food label to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed food choices, and to build healthful diets. The food industry encourages consumers to read food labels to learn how to make processed foods part of a well-balanced diet. Here is some of the information you will find on a food label.

* Serving size?Similar food products must list the same serving sizes. Serving sizes help you easily compare different brands of similar products.

* Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein? The Nutrition Facts on the label lists amounts of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein to help consumers regulate their diets. This information is beneficial to all consumers, and especially to people with special health conditions.

* Vitamins and minerals?Food companies list the amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron their products contain. To better inform health-conscious consumers, many companies voluntarily list other nutrients as well.

* Nutrient content claims?Did you ever wonder what ?free,? ?lite,? ?low,? or ?reduced fat? mean? These terms can be used only if the food meets strict government definitions. ?Calorie free? means the product has fewer than five calories per serving. ?Reduced fat? means it has at least 25 percent less fat. Consumers can compare claims on different brands to make healthful choices.

* Health claims?Like nutrient content claims, health claims are strictly regulated. They describe the relationship between a food or food component and a health-related condition. Approved health claims include calcium and osteoporosis, fat and cancer, saturated fat and cholesterol and heart disease, fiber and cancer, fruits and vegetables and cancer, and sodium and hypertension.

* Percent Daily Values?Percent Daily Values are reference numbers based on nutrition guidelines. They help consumers understand how much of a nutrient a food contributes to their diet. Use Percent Daily Values to compare your diet to current nutrition recommendations.

* Ingredient List?The ingredient list tells you what is in the food, listed by weight from most to least. The ingredient list is also useful for people with a food allergy.

Food Processors Get Involved

In addition to food safety, nutrition is one of the food industry?s top concerns. The industry helped the federal government develop the new food label. Several years ago the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) worked with its Member companies to produce educational information about the new food label, in a book called Label Facts for Healthful Eating. (To order, see below.)

Today, food processors are leading efforts in food allergen labeling. NFPA and its Member companies have developed voluntary allergen labeling guidelines for food processors. The guidelines help food companies use plain, clear language to tell consumers about possible product allergens.
More Information
(To order Label Facts for Healthful Eating, click on ?Publications.?)

NFPA?s consumer website)
(Dietary Guidelines for Americans)

What Is Food Biotechnology?

Food Biotechnology | Biotech Benefits | Further Reading

Food biotechnology is a process scientists use to enhance the production, nutritional value, safety, and taste of foods. It can also benefit the environment by improving crops so that they need fewer pesticides. The concept is not new: For centuries farmers have selectively bred plants to pass on desirable qualities.

For example, our ancestors began by replanting only corn seeds from the highest yielding and best tasting corn they grew each year. This process selected desirable genes and fixed them by growing the seeds of the selected crop year after year. The result: the golden, deliciously sweet product we now enjoy.

Modern food biotechnology is a refined version of this same process. Today, scientists obtain desired traits by adding or removing plant genes. (Genes are the hereditary units that form the ?blueprint? of all living beings. They determine characteristics such as the number of peas in a pod, the color of the flowers, and so on.) For example, scientists can remove a gene for a trait such as dark kernels from one plant and add it to another plant?s genetic makeup.

This process is called ?genetic engineering? or ?recombinant DNA technology.? It yields foods that are flavorful, contain more vitamins and minerals, and absorb less fat when cooked, and gives us crops that are more resistant to pests and insects.

Food biotechnology holds great promise for the future. Soon, fruits and vegetables may be made to resist drought. We may remove allergens from foods such as nuts. Scientists may develop plants that absorb nitrogen more efficiently and need less fertilizer. The benefits are nearly limitless!

Biotech Benefits

* Nutrition?Scientists can develop foods with vitamin and mineral fortification. ?Golden rice? was developed through food biotechnology. Golden rice can help deliver nutrients the body converts to Vitamin A?much needed in the developing world.

* Safety?The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, American Medical Association, and American Dietetic Association agree that foods from biotechnology are safe, and may become even safer for the environment with use of fewer pesticides.

* Bounty?With the world population on the rise, we need an ample food supply. Scientists are developing crops that can thrive in harsh climates in which current non- biotech crops cannot. This can bring more land into cultivation, which in turn will lead to the production of more food to feed an increasing world population.

  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says ?? biotechnology can be of significant assistance in meeting the needs of an expanding and increasingly urbanized population? .?

* Natural Protection from Pests?Fruits and vegetables can be modified to naturally resist herbicides and destructive insects. As a result, farmers are now using fewer pesticides and herbicides.

* Cost Savings?When farmers spend less money on pesticides and herbicides, you can pay less at the grocery.

Further Reading
Biotechnology FAQs (U.S. Department of Agriculture):

A Biotech Timeline (Monsanto):

Food Safety and Legislation (National Food Processors Association):