Food Shelf Life Testing:
Product development and food Shelf life testing
Product development protocol must be well designed before a business can have confidence in shelf life estimation of its products. The business must produce homogeneous product with consistency among the batches. Physical and chemical factors that impact on the capacity of bacteria to grow, such as pH, water activity and consistency must be well controlled. The physical, chemical and microbiological profile of several batches of finished product must be estimated. The product contamination must be controlled. The packaging materials must be suitable.
Product stability and food safety
Refrigerated storage trials should be run close to 5°C and under conditions of mild temperature abuse equal to what might be encountered in the commercial cold chain. Products should be inspected at suitable times and samples tested for stability of the critical physical and chemical characteristics. These trials also provide an opportunity to commence microbiological tests for both spoilage organisms and the cold-tolerant pathogens. The trials should continue beyond the targeted shelf life unless the product fails earlier.
Following minor changes during storage may be significant:
- pH change
- Water redistributed within the product
- The preservative system
- Signs of surface growth of microorganisms
- Chemicals migration from the food-contact materials into the food
- Any other unforeseen changes to the product
The trials should lead to an understanding of target levels and ranges for the critical physical and chemical characteristics of the product over the intended shelf life. The worst case or least restrictive values of the key chemical characteristics can then be compared to published values to evaluate the opportunity for microbial growth, particularly for the key cold-tolerant pathogens.
Food manufacturers need to accurately determine the use by or best before dates for their products in order to meet strict regulations and to keep their brand and consumers safe.
Shelf life is a product of physical, microbiological and chemical processes, triggered by any one of a multitude of contributing factors. Product characteristics, including the quality and consistency of ingredients, the moisture content and acidity levels, all play a part, as do external factors like storage, transport and packaging materials.
Food shelf life testing of a food must be planned with the help of a food expert/consultant who understand the product and process under study. They can offer you a protocol to follow which is tailor-made to your products, storage and packaging etc.
Our laboratory uses the latest shelf life testing methods and technology, and is accredited to the international standard for quality management (ISO/IEC 17025:2005). We assure you of high quality, cost effective service which delivers accurate shelf life test results that will help to demonstrate compliance with statutory requirements.
By performing shelf life analyses, you can define accurate dates for your products, ensuring that the quality remains acceptable and safe for consumers.
We test for food-borne micro-organisms such as Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.coli, Yeasts and Moulds, Staphylococcus Aureus, Bacillus Cereus, Lactic Acid Bacteria, Total viable count, Enterobacteriaceae. Also physical characteristics including Moisture content, Acidity levels, pH, Water activity Aw, Fat rancidity.
Accurate and reliable shelf life testing will reduce the risk of product recalls and identifying the causes of reduced shelf life will help you to improve your products, processes and ultimately your profitability.
If products have a long shelf life then real time testing is not likely to fit in with product development cycles. In many cases accelerated stability testing can be used to estimate shelf life; but technical expertise is a necessity. Real time testing— after the product has been launched if necessary—should be used to verify estimated best before dates.
Accelerated shelf life testing typically involves storing products at high temperature / humidity / light intensity or similar. Products are tested following storage for different times and conditions. For some products, tests other than those used for routine quality control might be required. The calculations to convert the results of testing into an estimated shelf life are complex. Results must be analysed and interpreted by experts.
You can still eat foods for a while after the best before date as they should be safe but they may have lost some quality. Foods that have a best before date can legally be sold after that date provided the food is fit for human consumption.
Foods that must be eaten before a certain time for health or safety reasons should be marked with a use by date. Foods should not be eaten after the use by date and can’t legally be sold after this date because they may pose a health or safety risk.
for more information call SFSS experts on 0411717838 or visit www.sfss.com.au