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.