Food processing uses methods and techniques involving equipment, energy, and tools to transform agricultural products such as grains, meats, vegetables, fruits, and milk into edible, functional, and culturally relevant food products. Processing is essential to production and consumption within the food value chain. It preserves food that can ship over greater distances, is shelf-stable longer, and is enjoyed with more nutrients intact over time.

Contrary to popular belief, the effects of food processing cannot be generalized as unhealthy. The term “processed food” has gotten a bad rap over the years. But note: while all processed food undergoes processing, not all food processing results in processed food.

Light Processing

Light processing, as outlined below, does not change the foods’ original structure or nutritional properties. Further, minimally-processed foods such as frozen or canned products are usually harvested and processed at their peak of ripeness, flavor, and nutritional value.

Light Processing Level 1 Light Processing Level 2
  • Washing produce
  • Bundle/sorting for resale
  • Packing or Palletizing for distribution
  • Packing CSA boxes
  • Deleaving/destemming produce
Manual/automated advanced processing: 

  • Peeling
  • Chopping
  • Freezing/Flash Freezing
  • Dehydrating
  • Portion packing
  • Fermenting
Value-Added Processing

Value-added processing is: 

  • A change in the physical state or form of the product, or
  • The physical segregation of an agricultural product in a manner that results in the enhancement of the product’s value

Thus, value-added processing can be very simple to highly complex. Adding value can be simple: sorting fruits and vegetables by size and selling them through unique packaging, to the complexity of processing salsa, jams, jellies, chutney, and meat animals. Value-added processing uses produce not intended for fresh market sales, and is a means to utilize the surplus of a product during the growing season. 

Value-added processing can alter a product’s structure and nutrients, sometimes radically, which is how some processed foods are deemed unhealthy. Processed foods, however, are an integral part of today’s diet and a significant contributor to food and nutrition security.

Value-Added Processing
  • Canning
  • Bottling
  • Milling
  • Meat Processing
  • Pickling
  • Jams, Jellies, Preserves
  • Smoking
  • Mixing
  • Baking
  • Cheese making
  • New technologies like high-pressure packaging

 

Processing is an integral part of a local food system. A lack of food processors limits growth in agriculture and among small food businesses if they must transport their products long distances for processing.

Some food processing techniques use cutting-edge technology, while others, like washing, simply need a washing station. Understanding the type of processing function and the capacity needed to meet demand is how New Venture Advisors determines the equipment a food processor installs.

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

The Whatcom County Food System Committee recently conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors will partner with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan will focus on six sectors of the food system including fishing, farming, labor, food access, environment, and waste, and will be informed by an inclusive and equitable community engagement process.  The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2022)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a school district commissary. The goal is to strengthen Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. NVA developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development. (2022)