The use of cans in food packaging boosts fruit and vegetable intake, increases nutritional benefits, and makes edibles safer.
Research out of Michigan State University (MSU) shows use of cans in food packaging leads to increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. Most consumers don’t get enough; Americans, for example, US consumers only get 33% of the recommended daily amount of fruits, and only 27% of their vegetables.
Lead researcher Steven Miller, PhD, assistant professor at MSU's Center for Economic Analysis, tackled the study topic at the request of the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI).
“They approached me with the question of how the cost of consuming fruits and vegetables differ across multiple packaging types,” he told FoodProductionDaily. “We took this to mean whole produce, whether consumed whole or as ingredients to meal preparation, across fresh, frozen and canned.”
Miller told FPD his team was to broaden understanding of food processing options and impacts on nutritional content across packaging types, with an eye toward economic and policy impact. The CMI also wanted to examine costs versus benefits of canning and other packaging methods.
“I really came into this project with no expectations of outcomes in terms of costs and nutritional content,” he said.
Miller’s work frequently focuses on food and nutritional issues and impact on communities. One topic area his work touches upon is consumer and policy perceptions about fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We don’t suggest one over the other, put popular media tends to emphasize that only fresh is healthy,” he said. “Nothing can be further from the truth, and both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables have important roles in meeting nutritional objectives.”
In this study, Miller and his team determined canned fruit and vegetables measure up to, and often surpass, their fresh or frozen versions, nutritionally speaking. Canned tomatoes bear more lycopene and B vitamins than fresh; the canning process also makes fiber in beans and other vegetables more soluble to the human body.
According to Miller, the study expanded upon previously available (and somewhat limited) research on nutritional impact of canning foods.
“We were surprised to see how many studies relied on a single or limited breadth of measures for nutritional content,” he said. “For example, Vitamin C is a favorite metric of researchers, yet it is highly susceptible to thermal treatment and degrades rapidly when heated.”
Miller told FPD that the team worked to use measurements in the study that accurately represent current nutritional guidelines.
“To our knowledge our paper is the only one that considers the nearly full breadth of the Dietary Reference Intake,” he said.
Also, the study determined canned fruits and vegetables can stretch food budgets. Canned foods can cost 50% less than frozen and 20% less than fresh, and they are more likely to be wasted.
Miller told FPD the extended shelf life of canned food can be a boon to consumers in remote areas, or with limited resources.
“Both frozen and canned produce provide forms of preservation for deferred consumption,” he said. “While frozen occupies what may be limited freezer space for some, canned has few limitations to deferred consumption.”
He also said consumers living in areas without access to fresh food rely upon canned food for meeting nutritional needs.
“With increasing concern about food deserts and limited access to quality, full-service grocery stores by select populations, comparing the nutritional content of processed foods to fresh and further comparing this with costs of edible portions is a good starting point toward meeting nutritional objectives of these populations,” he said.
Further, canned fruits and vegetables can be safer to eat than fresh or frozen, the study determined. The high heat used to can edibles prevents growth of foodborne pathogens.
Miller’s work at the Center for Economic Analysis includes examining economics around healthy consumer eating choices, policy evaluation around state and federal funding for child and adult nutrition education programming and economic development. He recently submitted an article for publication entitled “Valuing Michigan’s Local Food System: A Replicable Model for Valuing Local Food,” with the objective of furthering understanding and comparing local food systems, and building tools for evaluating policies supporting local food.