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households are also discussed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of consumer interactions with the food environment, looking specifically at how the food environment influences consumer choice and at current understanding of consumer behavior change models.


Since the late 1800s, the U.S. food environment has experienced tremendous growth and changes in the food manufacturing and retailing sectors, which continue to evolve (Beckley et al., 2007). Today, the majority of food undergoes some type of processing before reaching consumers. Some processing is so extensive that little or no preparation of the food is needed before consumption. As discussed in Chapter 5, processed foods are major contributors to sodium intake, making the food manufacturing and retailing sectors of key interest to the committee. This section provides an overview of food manufacturing and retailing in the United States, information on how food products are developed, and examples of efforts taken by the food industry to reduce sodium intake and the levels of sodium in the foods it produces.

Characteristics of the Processed Food Industry

Processed food represents one of the largest sectors of the U.S. manufacturing industry, accounting for 10 percent of manufacturing shipments and valued at $538 billion in 2006. The U.S. Department of Commerce defines food manufacturing as an industry that “transforms livestock and agricultural products into products for intermediate or final consumption.”1 Although the definition of processing may include minimal manipulation, such as cutting meat or slicing fresh produce, the term “processed foods” is most closely associated with more complex products, such as baked goods, canned soups, and frozen meals. Restaurant foods and food served by commercial foodservice operations are considered in the following sections.

Table 6-1 shows the wholesale value of shipments for various food categories. To produce these goods, the food manufacturing industry employed 1,476,300 people as of September 2009.2 There are approximately 31,000 food and beverage processing plants in the United States; however, most of the output of the processed food industry is derived from a relatively


Available online: (accessed July 20, 2009).


Available online: (accessed October 12, 2009).

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