Food expiry dates or use-by dates are a key indicator to inform your customer of the safety and suitability to consume a particular food product. Welcome to the HACCP Mentor series on Food Safety HACCP Compliance 101: How do I comply with that? In this episode, we take a look at how to set your food expiry date. The food expiry date is also known as shelf life within the food industry.
Use-by date verses Best-before date
The majority of food safety legislation or food labeling legislation will require that all food sold to customers (that is packaged) contains a food expiry date. This may be in the format of either a use-by date or a best-before date.
The use-by date tells the customer the date to which the product is safe to consume (considering all storage and handling requirements have been met). A best-before date may indicate a loss of quality attributes such as colour, taste profile, staleness etc.
Check your local food labeling legislation to see if both use-by date and best-before date have been clearly defined.
Setting your food expiry date
Food expiry dates are generally set during your product development phase. It is very important to have an understanding of the microbiological, chemical and quality hazards of the raw materials used, the production process and also the finished product. A risk assessment is commonly used in this process. Potential hazards can be researched as a starting point.
When you have a good understanding of your potential hazards you can then have your finished food product tested for those hazards. This is usually completed in association with a food laboratory. Your product can be tested and assessed at various points in the shelf life process. For example, if you believe the product will be safe to consume up to 6 months, you would test at say Day 1, Day 30, Day 60 and so on. Your food laboratory is a good resource in helping with your initial testing frequency.
Using the food expiry dates of your competitors
Please do not use the food expiry dates set by you competitors. The raw materials, technology and processes used by your competitors can and will most likely be very different to yours. This is especially the case in smaller boutique food business compared to a major food manufacturing company.
Verifying your food expiry date
Once you have established the initial shelf life, you still need to routinely check that the food product is maintaining that food expiry date. This is considered to be a verification activity where the question of “Is this food product still safe at the set food expiry date?” needs to be answered.
There are key times when the food expiry date or shelf life of your product needs to be verified. This includes:
- Whenever you change the recipe or formulation of your food product. This can include changing the ongoing weights.
- Whenever you introduce a new raw material or change a raw material used in your food product. This includes packaging materials.
- Whenever you change the process used to make a product.
- Whenever you introduce a new piece of manufacturing equipment to produce the food product.
- Whenever you change the pack size of the finished product.
Practice in play
How do you establish and verify food expiry dates in your business? Share your methods with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below this post.