Labelling and Packaging

How to set your food expiry date

Setting the food expiry date of your products is a basic food safety requirement. This means – you have to be able to tell the customer how long they have before the food is considered unsafe to eat. This information is usually communicated to the customer via the food expiry date or best before date that you label on your products. Welcome to session #20 of the HACCP Mentor 101 series. In this session we cover some basics in how to set the food expiry date of your food products.

Extending a foods shelf life

In today’s commercial environment, it is beneficial to be producing a food product that has an extended shelf life. This allows the product to remain for sale for longer, reduce wastage and product returns from retailers or customers and allow for more extensive distribution. Some of the more traditional methods of extending the life of a food product includes salt curing, freezing, canning, smoking, commercial sterilisation, or pickling. The addition, chemical preservatives may also be used but you would need to check applicable food legislation in your country of manufacture.

Do not copy your competitors

Just a quick note for any food business that is starting out. Establishing your food expiry date from what your competitor has labelled is not acceptable. The way that they make their food product may be very different to how you manufacture your food product. Their manufacturing site is going to be very different to yours as well.

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Establishing the food expiry date

When establishing the food expiry date, consideration needs to be given to not only your process environment but also to particular food safety and quality parameters. Examples of processing methods that delivers an extended shelf life includes flash pasteurisation and high pressure processing.

The packaging that the product gets sold to the consumer in needs to also be considered. Packing your food product in vacuum packaging or modified atmosphere packaging will generally allow you to set a greater food expiry date.

Confirming your food expiry date

All food expiry dates need to be confirmed or verified. If you are required to comply with any of the major GFSI recognised standards, this will be a mandatory requirement. When setting up your food expiry date verification program make sure that it includes:

  • Testing of retention samples at different points in the product shelf life eg. day 2, day 45, day 100 for all parameters.
  • Testing the product beyond the stated shelf life eg. test at 13 months if the product has a 12-month shelf life indicated on the label.
  • Challenge testing of the product to support your storage instructions eg. to account for the cold chain process post-dispatch.
  • Challenge test as if packaging may be compromised. For example, if air remains in a cryovac product or the gas mix was incorrect when using MAP packaging.

Best before date of use by date?

The determination to show your food expiry date as a “best-before” or a “use-by” date is generally governed by food safety legislation. As a rule of thumb, a “best-before” date will relate to the deterioration of quality attributes like colour, taste or freshness. A “use-by” date will generally relate to the food safety of the product. This indicates that for health and safety reasons, the product should not be eaten by the consumer.

What is your method?

How have you determined the food expiry date in your food business? Share your thoughts with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below.

20 thoughts on “How to set your food expiry date”

  1. Edwina Amoako

    thanks a lot Amanda. is there an option to indicate shelf life by stating the manufacturing and expiry date or to just state ‘use by’ and ‘best before’

    1. Thanks for your question Edwina. It really depends on what your legislation states. If you are based in the UK, you can check out this link for more details on best before and use-by dates.

  2. nelson D. fajardo

    I ‘m involved in production of sweet pickle relish for institutional user . The ratio of sugar, acids and salt is important in
    determining product expiry dates.as well as the temperature of cooking and preservatives legally allowed in the industry.

  3. Any new product introduction in to market, we may have to adopt accelerated shelf life study. After which 1 month, 3 month and up 12 month periodical check points will help us to freeze the real shelf life of the product. Is it right.

    1. Thanks for your question Ulaganathan. Your current procedure seems to be an acceptable method when considering what the shelf life of your product should be.

  4. Our products are roasted nuts and peanuts. I kept samples of the finished products in a cold and dry place. After each month, I tasted the products to very their taste and odor. The results were recorded. When I realize a change in the taste and ordor of a product, I considered the date when I had the last good result as the “best before” date. I could have as well used the accelerated shelf life study method as stated by the others.

    1. This is a great method Theo to determine the sensory shelf life of your product. The only thing I would add is to maybe complete the testing under varying storage conditions. When you tie this in with microbiological shelf life you are on a winner.

  5. I am using accelerated shelflufe test using archwnius methode to determine expiration date of product. With this methode we can cut the time and cost.

  6. Bhaskar Mandla

    I think some Labs do anot accelarated shelf life study. That can also give an idea what shelf life that we can use.

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