When consumers shop for their groceries, they put their faith in food manufacturers and government regulators to establish a correct expiration date on each and every product they select. To prevent the serious consequences of poorly determined expiration dates such as illness outbreaks, product recalls, consumer distrust, and damage to brand reputation, the date food producers come up with must be carefully established according to rigid government rules and regulations.
To understand more on what goes into establishing the shelf life of foods, let’s take a closer look.
How Are Expiration Dates Determined?
In Canada, the shelf life study is considered to be the most effective method for deriving the “best before” date of a food product. With the safe consumption of the product remaining top of mind, these studies are used to determine how long a food item can:
- retain its desired palatability and quality
- preserve its microbial, chemical, and physical integrity
- remain wholesome and meet nutritional declarations
It’s of interest to students of food quality assurance to know that under Canadian food regulation laws, shelf life studies are not deemed to be necessary on all food products.
How Do Food Manufacturers Know When to Proceed With the Shelf Life Study?
In order for food manufacturers to comply with the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations there is a seven-step process used for food products, which helps establish the necessity for such a study. The steps of that process must be followed in order. In brief, these include:
- Estimating the shelf life of the food by reviewing existing research and industry guides, including history of illness, outbreaks, or microbiological growth that may be associated with the product
- Identifying the properties of the food which may cause it to deteriorate or become unsafe
- Identifying the tests needed to determine when the food has reached the end of its life
- Planning the shelf life study using the food’s estimated durability period as a starting point
- Conducting the study
- Evaluating the data and determining the actual shelf life
- Establishing conditions for verifying the declared shelf life
The last step is an oversight measure for ensuring the food in question continues to meet safety and quality standards. This often dictates a need for follow up shelf life studies, described in further detail below.
What Should Students of Food Quality Assurance Know About Shelf Life Studies?
When a study is deemed to be a requirement under Canadian law, students training in food quality control might be interested to know that there are two types of shelf life studies that can be performed. Depending on the food product being tested, the studies are as follows:
- The direct or real-time shelf life study examines a food stored under its normal recommended conditions for a period of time that stretches beyond its estimated durability. The food is assessed at regular intervals to establish the point at which it deteriorates, losing its palatability and quality.
- The indirect or accelerated shelf-life study accelerates the normal conditions of the recommended food storage, such as applying an increase in temperature, to make predictions to the expiration date according to observations on food quality deterioration under the changed conditions. These studies are more often used on longer-life products.
It’s important to note that when a shelf life study is deemed necessary, it’s recommended that the food manufacturer repeat the test two to three times a year. This is in order to gather ongoing data as evidence to support the validity of the product’s shelf life.
Additionally, a shelf life study will need to be repeated in the case of any type of alteration to the product’s formulation, ingredients, packaging, or production methods. The “best before” date will be adjusted if the tests reveal the previously declared shelf life is no longer accurate.
Are you interested in taking specialized training in the pursuit of one of many exciting careers in food quality assurance and quality control?
Contact the Academy of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences for more information on its Food Technology, Safety and Quality certification program!