processing and its problems
The first food processing humans did (after discovering how to make fire) was preparing and cooking food. Then they discovered that they could process food to stop it going bad - preserve it - for eating in hard times like winter or drought. Here are the main ways people preserve food:
What's the problem?
Today, companies that process food in factories are mostly interested in
adding value by making something that tastes good. If it doesn't, no one will
buy it and they won't make any money. A single raw potato is worth almost nothing,
but if you slice it thinly and fry
the slices in fat, the crispy chips you get take up lots of space. So you can
package them up in a fancy bag and sell them for many times the original value
of the potato. And they taste good, of course! Humans love salt, sugar and fat
so foods which have a lot of these are really tasty – but not too good for your
health. Too much fat in your diet seems to be the cause of many diseases like
cancer and heart disease. You'd be surprised to discover
that savoury snacks (like chips or crisps) often contain sugar as well as salt
and fat. And sweet snacks (biscuits and stuff) usually contain salt as well
as sugar and fat. If you eat lots of sugary foods (including some drinks), your
body changes the sugars into fat - which some people can do without.
There's another big problem too: bad food...
Why does food go bad? Processed food is easily messed up (contaminated) by microbes that cause food poisoning. You only need a few bits of bad meat to pollute the machinery that makes it into pies or something, and that would then contaminate thousands of them. Obviously manufacturers are very careful because if they poisoned their customers, they wouldn't make any money.
Poisoning their customers is exactly what tobacco companies do - only the effects take 20 or 30 years rather than a few hours in the case of food poisoning. If cigarettes gave you cancer in a few months, nobody would smoke.
The microbes that do the damage are mostly bacteria. They make poisons (toxins) in the food they affect and it is these - as well as the bacteria themselves - which can make you very ill if you eat bad food.
Microbe facts: More about these killer bugs
1. New Scientist, 17/12/1994,
2. A Rogue's Gallery of Foodborne Illness Union of Concerned Scientists