Shelf life, pack date, sell-by date, best-if-used-by date and freeze-by date…we are all familiar with these terms. We find ourselves eagerly searching our items in the grocery stores checking these dates every day. Making sure we not only are buying the freshest bread, but keeping our loved ones safe from foodborne illness, as well.
Have you ever wondered what is involved in determining this date? And what should food manufacturers do to ensure the accuracy of their food product’s expiration dates?
It all starts with the ‘Shelf Life.’
What is Shelf Life?
Shelf life is the amount of time a food or beverage is given until it is considered unsuitable for sale or consumption. The shelf life of a product begins at the time the food was prepared or manufactured.
There are certain factors that can influence shelf life, including: ingredients (formulation), how it’s processed, types of packaging, and storage temperatures – either refrigerated or shelf stable (room temperature).
How do Food Manufacturers Determine an Accurate Shelf?
Perhaps the most important step in ensuring accurate labeling for an end date is the Shelf Life Test. There is no other method to determine a food products shelf life other than lab testing.
Lab testing can be expensive and time consuming; however, there is no way around it. If a food manufacturer, big or small, needs to determine an accurate end date for their product, then testing in a lab must be done.
The duration of the test will be as long as the shelf life expectancy you are shooting for. If your product has an expectant date of one year, then your test will take one year.
Helpful Tips in Preparing for Shelf Life Testing
Because this test can be an investment for some start-up companies, it might be good to note some helpful advice.
Use a Certified Lab: Make sure the lab you chose is certified and accredited. It is critical that this test be performed by trained professionals, in a certified lab, with correct processes and procedures in place.
Ship Fresh Samples: Don’t forget! Shelf life begins at the time the product was prepared or manufactured, so it is important to ship samples as close to the finish time as possible. For example, it wouldn’t be recommended to ship samples that are already several months on the shelf.
Allow Time for Test: Plan ahead! Because the test will take as long as your expectant time frame, it is important for you to plan for this time. Retailers will not accept your product for sale unless a shelf life is provided.
Find a HELPFUL Lab: Perhaps the most important of all, is to find a lab that is available to answer your questions. Lab testing can be a daunting task for some. Having a reliable contact is invaluable resource, not only for preparing your samples to ship, but explaining the results, as well.
Shelf Life Testing here at RL Food Testing Laboratory
Here at RL Food Testing Laboratory, we offer a 6 point test for shelf life. This way of testing provides a valid way to determine suitability with the product. The 6 testing point are distributed across your expectant shelf life. You will receive a report at the end of each testing point.
Roger Legg, our Senior Chemist goes on to explain that, “The shelf life testing with 6 points has proven to be statistically valid and allows a short enough interval between test points should a food product go bad. It also allows the scientist to catch significant microbiological occurrences and provides an accurate end date for the product.”
Getting the test done is one thing, understanding the results is another! That is why, here at RL Food Testing, we provide a detailed explanation letter of your results – at no extra charge. This letter will help you understand your results in simple terms.
And, we are here 7 days a week to answer your questions. Just give us a call at 877-753-6631!
A recent study from UC Davis Olive Center and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory has people questioning the purity claims made on the olive oil they purchase. The study found that nearly two-thirds of extra-virgin olive oils found in California grocery stores weren't what they were claiming to be – and most of them were pricey import brands.
Our very own Roger Legg, Senior Nutrition Chemist at RL Food Testing Laboratories, explains, “There are two common criteria for classifying different grades or purity of olive oil: fatty acid percentage, u.v. absorbance at two wavelengths 232 and 270 nm and a calculated delta K value. Based on these results from laboratory testing a company can make a claim about the purity.”