From the frozen aisle to the fast food restaurant, mass produced food products are everywhere. But what exactly is a mass produced food product?
This article will review everything you need to know about mass produced food products, including what they are, how they’re made, and their environmental and health impacts.
Read more about the background of mass food production on our homepage: Mass Food Production Overview
What Are Mass Produced Food Products?
Mass produced food products include any food item that is made or processed on a large-scale, such as in a factory.
Generally, because these products are made industrially, each item is identical, or at least similar. The mass food production process passes food items through multiple processing stages to get the product from its natural, farm-grown state to the grocery store or restaurant.
While you may immediately recognize certain highly-processed foods as a mass produced food product, other examples of mass produced food may be less obvious. For example, some fruit salads are coated in a special edible “seal” to maintain freshness. In this case, while the fruit is a fresh food, it has actually been processed. However, just because a food has been industrially processed does not necessarily mean that it is less healthy.
The most common types of mass produced food products include:
- Meat products
- Canned meals
- Frozen meals
Essentially, most foods you can find in the grocery store that look identical are mass produced.
How Are Mass Produced Food Products Made?
The production process depends largely on the type of food being made. While some food products, such as cookies or crackers, only become recognizable after the production process mixes ingredients together, other kinds of food are merely processed using additives or preservatives.
Many foods we eat today are, if not completely, then partially mass produced in a factory. The process can be split into multiple stages. In primary processing, raw ingredients like meat or wheat are turned into an ingredient that can be used. In secondary processing, these ingredients are actually used to create a recognizable food product, like bread. Finally, some (not all) foods undergo tertiary processing, which turns the food into ready-to-eat meals like frozen meals.
Many mass produced food products are then shipped to grocery stores. Some mass produced food is also frozen and sent to fast food restaurants.
Are Mass Produced Food Products Unhealthy?
The short answer is no, just because a food product is mass produced does not necessarily mean that it is unhealthy or harmful to our health.
However, as with many food items, eating too much of some processed foods can be unhealthy, especially as mass produced food products often are high in salt, fat, and added sugars. A 2019 study showed that eating “ultra-processed” foods is associated with higher levels of heart disease. It should be noted that not all mass produced food products are highly processed to include unhealthy ingredients.
There are some things that many mass produced food products have in common that may damage human health. These include:
- Pesticides (products from industrial agriculture)
- Antibiotics (products from industrial farming)
- Food additives such as sugars, colorants, and preservatives
Read more about how mass produced food products impact our health: Mass Production of Food and Our Health
Pros and Cons of Mass Produced Food Products
Mass produced food products have many benefits, but they also can cause harm to our health or the environment.
Pros of mass produced food products include:
- Lower food costs
- Increased shelf-life of foods
- Job creation in the agriculture sector and food industry
Cons of mass produced food products include:
- Environmental harm, including carbon emissions from agriculture and industry, creation of waste, and contamination of natural resources
- Human health problems resulting from a lack of access to unprocessed, “non-junk” foods
Read more: Mass Food Production Pros and Cons