Processing- 10 Principles of Food Sustainability

Hello FoodGrads! Last time we looked at the third principle from the 10 Principles of Food Sustainability created by Cheryl Baldwin, Vice President of Consulting Pure Strategies. We learned about what constitutes something as “good” animal welfare conditions and what areas the food industry has to improve on. Now we are moving on to an area which is closer to the manufacturing side and involves energy!

This week we are looking in depth at the forth principle which is:

Food and ingredient processing generates resources and requires minimal additional inputs and outputs

As soon as food leaves the farm it will undergo processing of some sort. This includes everything from separating, cutting, mixing and even washing. As you can imagine with all these steps things can get pretty energy intensive. Imagine something like a can of soup. The vegetables need to be cut, washed and mixed into a mixture. That is a lot of work!

As the food manufacturing industry continues to grow so does the energy required to meet our food needs. Although alternative energy sources exist they are not prevalent enough to overwrite all of their energy demands.

Energy Use in Food Processing

The majority of studies on energy consumed by the agriculture and food sector have been carried out in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. According to a study by Stout in 1984 in the report entitled, “Energy use and management in agriculture” 16.5% of the total US energy consumption was used by the agriculture and food processing sectors. That is a staggering number!

Though if we take a minute to consider where all the possible areas energy consumption occurs along the food chain it makes sense. Let’s list some examples at different steps along the chain.

  • Farm Energy Consumption- livestock, poultry and crop production; transportation of farm products and other farm product production
  • Food and Beverage Processing- Cooking, heating, packaging, storing, freezing and refrigerating, the moving part of a manufacturing plant
  • Commercial Energy Use– Every aspect in the restaurant, hotel dining and grocery store that involves storage
  • TransportationFree stock photo of road, traffic, landscape, nature
Although this all seems like a difficult task there are many places that we can work at in order to improve the range of energy efficiency. They can range from small places like maintenance of equipment or large investments such as investing in new equipment.
Simple steps that manufacturing plants can take that are relatively cheap which include keeping equipment clean (such as changing filters), properly adjusting equipment and only use equipment when it is needed.
Another place that can be examined is the processing of food products themselves. For example, reducing the downtime between batches of products or better scheduling of products leads to lower energy consumption. Larger investments can be made to the equipment themselves such as investing in more energy efficient motors. Sometimes large investments may seem well large but in the long run they lead to large energy savings overtime.


If you have read the first blog post in this series of blogs you might remember me talking about water consumption in the food industry and how it is a problem. Agricultural production has accounted for about 90% of global fresh water consumption during the past century. What is even more concerning is that this number is only expected to increase. The reason why so much water is used is because simply it is cheap and plentiful in many parts of the world.

Free stock photo of light, water, drink, blur

Despite this fact, the use of water is starting to become a bigger issue and there many ways that the food manufacturing industry can improve themselves. Some examples include:

  • Water Reuse- Water can be reused between operations. Parts of the water can flow from one area of the plant to another in order to be re-purposed.
  • Regeneration recycling- The use of water reclaimed from waste-water treatment and reused in the same operations
  • Regeneration reuse- The use of water reclaimed from waste-water treatment, and reused in a different operation to the one from it was generated

Overall, our reliance on water and energy in food processing is putting stress on the environment. There are many actions we as a manufacturing industry can take to improve our environmental footprint. Though helping the environment is not the only thing which will benefit from taking action, cost saving in another huge benefit of taking action. Companies who lead the charge can expect to have better public views and can know they are leading to a better future for all.

Author: Veronica Hislop Veronica is a Chemistry student studying at Ryerson University and loves looking at the science in the kitchen. She has a passion for bringing awareness to sustainability in the food industry. When Veronica is taking a break from her food endeavors you will find her at home reading a great novel and playing with her cats.

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