Food Science and the Canadian Food System

In this lesson we will define the field of food science, and discuss the size and scope of the food industry in Canada. We will take a look at food production, importation and distribution within Canada. Apple production and processing will be discussed as an example of the conversion of an agricultural product into a variety of food products. Finally, we will monitor some food consumption patterns and trends which have occurred over the past 40 years.

After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

Required Readings
Food Availability in Canada in 2016: Statistics Canada Food Availability 2016 Highlights. [1]

You only need to know the trends, such as increase, decrease, more, and less. You don't need to know the specific data.
Optional Readings
Top Ten Functional Food Trends in 2017 - Summary: [2]

You only need to know the big headings.


What is the Definition of Food Science?

Foods, as such, are complex systems subject to many forms of changes, including biochemical, nutritional, physical and/or sensory changes. The multidisciplinary science known as food science is used to pull together the wide range of knowledge that deals with food.

Food Science can be defined as the application of the principles of science, engineering and mathematics in order to study and acquire new knowledge on the physical, chemical and biochemical nature of foods. Food science is a broad field that is composed of specializations in food microbiology, food chemistry and food engineering. Food science also involves the study of sensory properties of food, and therefore, the psychology of food choice. From the information gathered by food science, the corresponding technologies can be applied to the utilization, processing, preservation and storage of food. This is known as food technology.

Here is a brief explanation of the main components (sub-fields) of Food Science [3]:

Food Science Vs Nutrition [4]

Food Chemistry deals with the composition, structure and properties of food, as well as the chemistry of changes that occur during processing.

Food Analysis covers the principles and methods for quantitative physical and chemical analyses of food products and ingredients. These analyses are related to the standards and regulations for food processing.

Food Microbiology relates to the study of microbial ecology in relation to food, the effect of environment on food spoilage and food manufacture, the physical, chemical, and biological destruction of microorganisms in food, the microbiological examination of food stuffs, and public health and sanitation microbiology.

Food Processing covers the principles of food preservation and the general characteristics of raw food materials, processing factors that influence quality, packaging, waste management, good manufacturing practices, and sanitation procedures.

Food Engineering relates to the study and application of engineering concepts and unit operations used in food processing. Engineering principles include material and energy balances, thermodynamics, fluid flow, and heat and mass transfer.

How Old is the Discipline of Food Science?

Fig 1.1 Ancient Egyptian Wine Making Scene
Fig 1.2 Nicolas Appert's Canning Jar

Food science as a distinct discipline is quite new. However, many aspects of "food science" have existed for many centuries. Products derived from food fermentation (biotechnology) have existed for thousands of years. For example, there is evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon circa 5000 BC, ancient Egypt circa 3000 BC (Fig 1.1), and pre-Hispanic Mexico circa 2000 BC. Today we know that fermentation not only contributes to a wide variety of food products, but it also involves food processing and preservation.

Another example dates back to 1795, when Emperor Napoleon offered 12,000 francs for a new way of preserving food for its army. It was the French confectioner François Nicolas Appert who won the prize by placing food in wide-mouthed bottles, then corking and heating them in a water bath (Fig 1.2). The existence of bacteria was not known at the time, and Appert did not know the principle upon which his process depended; however, he was correct in the thought that heat could preserve food. Appert is therefore known as the discoverer of thermal processing (canning).

Other recent food science discoveries/applications include, but not limited to:

Can you name a food science application that affects your dietary routine?

Extent of Canada's Food System

Fig 1.3 Canadian Food System

In Canada, we have a diverse food system with thousands of food products available for purchase. Those products include foods produced in Canada as well as food products imported from many countries around the world.

The Canadian food system is depicted in Figure 1.3. Foodstuffs (fruit, vegetables, cereal grains, oilseeds, animals, fowl) are produced by farmers involved in primary agricultural production. Fin fish, molluscs and crustaceans are harvested from the wild or raised on fish farms. Unprocessed foodstuffs and fish are also imported for sale or processing in Canada. These products are shipped directly to farmers' markets, processors or distributors. Many agricultural and fishery products undergo some form of processing/preservation prior to distribution to the consumer market. Many foods are fabricated from the foodstuffs produced by primary agricultural and fishery harvesting. Examples of fabricated foods are bread, smoked and cured luncheon meats, soft drinks, yogurt and chewing gum, to name a few.

Food products from processors or primary producers often pass through various distributors before they reach retail stores or food service outlets. Foods are retailed through chain stores and smaller independent stores, as well as numerous convenience stores which may be part of a chain or may be owned by an independent operator, as well as food co-operatives.

Below are the major Provinces in Canada involved in the production of different agricultural food commodities:

Food Commodity Production Province
Animal (Beef, Pork, Poultry, etc) Widespread around Canada
Milk and Dairy Products Across Canada, Ontario, Quebec
Cereal Grains Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba
Tree fruit; small fruits; cranberries, blueberries, raspberries British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia; almost every province
Vegetables All across Canada
Seafood Atlantic Canada and British Columbia

Many agricultural commodities, finished food products and ingredients are imported into Canada as well. These imported products must meet the same standards and regulatory requirements as foods produced in Canada. This aspect is discussed in more detail in the section of the course dealing with regulatory issues and standards.

The Canadian Food Industry

The Canadian food industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Foods available to us on the grocery store shelves include both domestically produced products and imported foods.

The next time you are in a large grocery store, take some time to survey the proportion of shelf space devoted to various food commodity groups and note the vast array and variety of products that are in the grocery store.

Although Canada produces large amounts of fruits and vegetables, vast quantities of fruits and vegetables are imported as fresh product and in lesser amounts as frozen, canned and dehydrated products. This is due to the seasonal nature of fruit and vegetable production in Canada, as well as the need for climates warmer than Canada to grow fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and bananas.

Canada exports meat products (raw meat and processed meat products) to other countries but also imports meat products (raw meats of specific cuts that may be in short supply in Canada, as well as processed meat products). Likewise Canada exports raw fish (fresh and frozen salmon, cod, etc.) and processed fish (canned fish, smoked fish, salmon and herring roe) to other countries, while other types of fish (such as prawns, oysters, processed fish products) are imported into Canada.

Apples and Apple Products

Figure 1.4 Apple production and processing.

The processing of apples will be used as an example of the utilization and conversion of an agricultural commodity to various food products and ingredients (Fig. 1.4). After harvesting, apples can be routed several directions: they can be shipped directly to the fresh market; they can be processed; or they can be put into controlled atmosphere storage facilities where the atmosphere, temperature and humidity are carefully controlled to retard the rate of respiration and ripening of the apples, thus extending the storage life of the fresh fruit. Controlled atmosphere storage of apples is described at Washington Apples[5]. For example, the optimal storage environment for MacIntosh apples is at 3 oC, with 87% humidity, 3% oxygen, 3% carbon dioxide, and 94% nitrogen (natural atmospheric composition is 21% oxygen, <0.1% carbon dioxide and 78% nitrogen.)

Apples can be processed in various ways. A large proportion of processing apples is converted to apple juice. The type of apple juice preferred by consumers in Western Canada is the clear apple juice. Apple juice can be used as the starting material for the production of apple cider. In making cider, apple juice is inoculated with specific yeast strains which ferment sugar in the juice into ethanol and produce flavours characteristic of apple cider. Apple cider can be further processed by inoculating it with a bacterial culture that will oxidize the ethanol to acetic acid to produce apple vinegar.

Apples are also processed into apple sauce and pie fillings through thermal processing. A greater proportion of these products are used as ingredients in the bakery and food service industries than as items in retail stores.

To a lesser extent, apples are used to produce dehydrated apple slices, fruit leather, apple-filled snack bars and as ingredients for some confectionary products and breakfast cereals.

The apple solids remaining after juice extraction can be used as a feed material for the production of pectin (a carbohydrate used as gelling agent in the production of jams and jellies), animal feed, or as organic matter that can be returned to agricultural lands. In some cases, the residue may also be trucked to landfill sites which adds to the waste burden entering those sites.

Trends in Food Consumption in Canada

Overall, many changes have occurred in food consumption patterns in Canada in the past few decades, and they continue to change as consumer demands and perceptions change. Read about the food consumption highlights in Canada in the Statistics Canada Food Availability 2016 Hightlihgts. [1]

What were the trends in 2016 for the following food groups?

  1. Dairy products
  2. Fresh fruits
  3. Fresh vegetables
  4. Poultry
  5. Red meat

The advent of new processing technologies have brought new products on the market and will continue to bring new products to the market. Consumer perception of those products will determine whether they succeed or fail. Undoubtedly, advertising campaigns for various food products and controversies about the health effects of various food commodities (butter vs margarine; sugar vs non-caloric or low caloric sweeteners; fats vs fat substitutes; trans-fat free products; processed vs unprocessed foods) will continue to influence consumer food buying habits.

Trends in Foods in the United States

Top Ten Food Trends in 2017 - Summary:

Can you relate to these trends? Do they describe your diet? Do they not? If you are able to relate at least one of the trends, could you describe your own diet? If none of the trends is relevant to you, can you speculate why not?

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, the food industry in Canada is a large industry that provides employment for a substantial part of the workforce in Canada. The variety of food products available in grocery stores or through food service outlets is immense and is likely to grow in response to consumer demands and changes in demographics, health, animal welfare and environmental concerns.

At this point it is important to recognize that while the amount and variety of foods consumed in Canada are increasing, many people in other parts of our world are unable to even secure enough nutritious food to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It has been estimated that about 3/4 of the world population live in lesser developed countries which are found mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America. Most of the inhabitants of these countries cannot get enough nutritious food to eat each day. Nutrients in short supply include fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and clean, safe drinking water. It is important to keep that thought in mind as you proceed through the course.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Statistics Canada. 2016. Food Availability Highlights.
  2. IFT News Room. 2017. Top Ten Food Trends for 2017.
  3. Potter, N. N. and J. H. Hotchkiss. 1998. Food Science. 5th Edition. Aspen Publishers, Inc. Gaithersburg, Maryland. Characteristics of the Food Industry, Ch. 2. Vegetables and Fruits, Ch. 18. pages 432 to 434 (Fruit juices)
  4. Murano, P.S. 2003. Understanding Food Science and Technology. Thompson Wadsworth, Belmont, California. Introduction to Food Science and Technology, Ch. 1.
  5. Washington Apple Commission. 2010. Controlled Atmosphere Storage


FNH 200 Course content on this wiki page and associated lesson pages was originally authored by Drs. Brent Skura, Andrea Liceaga, and Eunice Li-Chan. Ongoing edits and updates are contributed by past and current instructors including Drs. Andrea Liceaga, Azita Madadi-Noei, Nooshin Alizadeh-Pasdar, and Judy Chan.

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