For anyone who has ever gotten food poisoning from either expired or contaminated meat knows that it not only can ruin a good meal but could potentially ruin you for a couple of days after as well. As a mother, I feel the added responsibility to select food that is safe for my family and want to trust that it is. It’s important that we as consumers understand what date the food we are going to purchase expires on, or if it’s at risk of contamination.
Expiration dates on packages can be a great way to reduce the risk of eating or purchasing food that is past the shelf life date. This has been effective for the most part as long as the date is clearly visible on the package.
Heaven forbid I forget my reading glasses when going to the market. If you are like me, blind as a bat without them, you need all the help you can get when trying to decipher the teeny tiny, not to mention illegible expiration date printed on the most indiscriminate part of the package. As the frustration mounts, the negotiating and head tilting begins….hmmm looks like it could be a 6 or an 8. No, no it is definitely a 5, yeah a 5 or no definitely a 6, you hope.
Technology and innovation to the rescue!
In a recent article from Food Dive, we are introduced to some very cool and innovative ‘expiration date’ labeling initiatives. Here are some of them…
Insignia Technologies has designed a color changing label that displays how much time is left on a product before it spoils. The benefit of this type of label is that retailers will be able to tell what products need to be placed for sale and what products need to be thrown away. The consumer would also be able to determine if they want to purchase the product knowing shelf life date is close to the purchase date and that they must eat sooner than later.
Another creative label is what researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada are working on, they call this a smart label. This label is time sensitive and would have the ability to change color when it detects E. coli, salmonella or listeria. We have been conditioned and have become a color coded society. We know that red means stop, green means go, and for the 40 and up crowd blue light means “big sale”. I think you get the point.
Why not apply this way of conditioned response to food safety as well? The benefit for using this type of label would be to warn the consumer of contamination. Also the smart label would be placed on the food during the entire production phase so this would help in locating where and when contamination transpired. This would help the manufacturer reduce the chances of selling a contaminated product.
Also, a designer out of London has developed a label that spoils or goes bad with the product named Bump Mark. The label is filled with gelatin, an animal based protein, and as the meat decays the gelatin begins to soften. The consumer will be able to tell the quality of the meat by just rubbing his/her finger across the label.
So you see once again “necessity is the mother of invention.” New technology and innovative ideas can help make the expiration dates on foods easier to understand and help stores to remove expried product from their shelves…and this mother is grateful.
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!
Whether you are a food manufacturer, a small startup or a food service provider, you are most likely aware of the FDA's proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Label, including the proposed changes to serving sizes. The final decision will impact anyone that is required to provide nutrition facts for their product. After the announcement of the proposed changes in February 2014, there was a comment period which enabled the public to comment on the proposed changes. The comment period ended on August 1, 2014. Even with the comment period closing, there is still more to do on the FDA's proposed nutrition label changes.
Very often we receive calls from customers that are either concerned about the FDA's proposed changes or have questions about the changes. We participated in the comment period, ourselves, and voiced a concern about the proposed timeline for the industry to comply with the addition of required nutrients to the label. Like many who have commented, we sometimes wonder: did the FDA hear us and will it make a difference? Is this all we can do?
Just because the comment period ended on August 1st, interest and concern haven't. Instead of feeling helpless and irrelevant, let's start to fill the cup half way full and continue our efforts.
Bruce Silverglade, Principal Attorney at Olsson Frank Weeda (OFW), feels that being proactive is the way to go and offers ways in which we can still engage and impact the final decision. In his recent blog post Mr. Silverglade tells us, "Don't sit back and wait: Be proactive!" He explains, "Filing a comment with FDA is the first, not the last, step in participating in the development of a final regulation."
It can be of interest to know what others have submitted during the comment period. This can help shine a light on who else might share the same stance and who has an opposing perspective.
Mr. Silverglade goes on to encourage anyone in the food industry, who might have concerns, to request a meeting with Members of the House and Senate Committees. They have jurisdiction over FDA's annual appropriations, as well as leading the Members from Congressional committees that have FDA oversight responsibilities. These meetings can serve as a way to share concerns by discussing the impact as it relates to individual areas in the food industry that might be overlooked or aren't being considered merely because of a lack of awareness.
Bottom line, we can still make an impact on the final ruling and there are things that we can be doing to achieve this. Let's continue to work smart, use the available resources, agencies and organizations that are available to be heard, and just remember folks, it's not over...yet.
We are following these propsed changes closely. Check back here for breaking updates.
Here at RL Food Testing Laboratory, we often get questions from our customers about organic food labels. In a recent blog article New Guidelines for Organic Food Labels, we review the new rules set forth by the National Organic Program (NOP). Below are some general questions about organic food labeling that you may find helpful to understand what is organic, when can you use the organic seal, and how do you get your product certified organic.
What is organic?
Organic refers not only to the food itself, but also how it is handled and produced. Organic food production is based on a system of farming that copycats a natural ecosystem and maintains and refills the fertility and nutrients of the soil. These methods mix cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and preserve biodiversity. Organic foods are produced without genetically modified organism (GMO) and radiation.
What is an organic seal?
The USDA Organic Seal is a seal, or label, that is affixed to certified USDA organic products. Two levels of certified products are allowed to have the USDA Organic Seal:
100% USDA certified organic products that are made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic products that are made with at least 95% organic ingredients
What are the requirements for a 100% organic label?
In order for a product to be labeled as 100% organic the following requirements must be met:
The product contains 100% USDA certified organic ingredients
Zero non-organic ingredients are allowed in the product
Any processing aids used must be organic
A 100% organic certified product is allowed to have the USDA Organic Seal
What are the requirements for an organic label?
In order for a product to be labeled organic, the product must have the following characteristic:
The product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients
Remaining 5% of the ingredients can be non-organic
All agricultural ingredients in the product must be organic unless not available
An "Organic" product is allowed to wear the USDA Organic Seal (Organic Apple Juice)
What are the requirements for products that are labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients?
Products that are processed and contain at least 70% organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients". The manufacturer will have to list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the main display panel. Furthermore, foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients will not be able to place the USDA seal on their product.
Is an Organic Label mandatory on an organic product?
Labeling is optional. But, labeling is encouraged because these labels help consumers to identify products quickly. It will help consumers understand the type of organic product they are purchasing.
Once the USDA labels a product as "organic" will the item still be subject to the laws and regulations that are enforced by the FDA? Yes, foods that are labeled as organic must follow with both the USDA guidelines for the organic claim as well as with the FDA regulations for labeling.
If a product claims organic, does it also need to be certified?
Yes, any final product claiming organic ingredients needs to be certified.
Where can I get my product certified as organic?
The National Organic Program oversees USDA endorsed certifying agents and their organic production and handling operations. Producers can view a current list which shows all certified, cancelled and suspended operations as they have been reported to the NOP on January 2, 2014. Only the specialized operations can label, sell or represent their product as organic.
Can I download the USDA Organic Seal?
Yes, the seal for 100% organic certified products can be downloaded here. The user has the option of four color seals or black and white seals.
On May 2, 2014, the National Organic Program (NOP) issued new guidelines for organic food labels. These new guidelines were the result of the organic trade and certifiers request for the NOP to clarify the requirements for “Made with Organic” labeling category.
The new guidelines for organic food labeling clarifies the following five aspects of products that are labeled “Made with Organic:” 1. Composition 2. Compliant organic labeling claims 3. Organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredient 4. Percentage of organic ingredients statements 5. Ingredients or food groups in the “made with organic” claim
In order to label the product “made with organic” it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, excluding salt and water. It cannot contain any ingredients that were made using excluded methods such as ionizing radiation, genetic engineering or sewage sludge.
The USDA defines excluded methods as various "Methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes”. If these conditions are met then the product can be labeled “made with organic.”
Compliant organic labeling claims
If it meets the above percentage requirements then the label can say “made with organic.” Up to three ingredients, combination of ingredients or food groups may be inserted after. You cannot say “85% organic”. It must be an ingredient specific claim such as “made with organic sugar”. Also specific ingredients cannot have a percent organic statement like “100% organic flour”.
All labeling “made with organic” cannot stand out among the rest of the labeling. It must be the same format as the rest of the label. No highlighting and the text must not be more than half the size of the largest text.
Organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredient
A product that is made with both organic and non-organic forms of an ingredient must be labeled as such. If the ingredient label statement is “made with organic sugar and corn” then both ingredients must be organic. You could also say “made with organic sugar and organic corn.”
Ingredients or food groups in the “made with organic” claim
The “made with organic” label may include a combined total of three ingredients, food groups or a combination of both.
If a statement is made in regards to an ingredient on the label “Made with organic apples” then all forms of an apple must be organic. Anything derived from apples must be organic as well such as apple juice.
If a product is stating “Made with organic milk” then all milk-based products, such as yogurt, cheese, or whey powder must be certified organic.
Only certain items can be listed as food groups – beans, fish, fruits, grains, herbs, meats, nuts, oils, poultry, seeds, spices, sweeteners, vegetables or processed milk products.
The final guidance documents are available from the COP through the Program Handbook: Guidance and Instructions for Accredited Certifying Agents and Certified Operations.
Helpful examples of these new guidelines for organic food labels can be viewed here.