Learn how long you should leave food on a shop shelf for
How do I determine the shelf-life of my product?
The FSAI has produced a detailed guidance document, Guidance Note No. 18: Validation of Product Shelf-life (Revision 3), outlining agreed best practice to be used by food businesses to determine product shelf-life.
Do I need to have my food product tested in a laboratory?
Laboratory-based food product tests are predominately used to make the critical decisions regarding food safety and shelf-life. It is good practice to verify product safety and shelf-life periodically as subtle changes can arise in products over time. Samples of food products may also be taken by food business operators at different points in the distribution chain or on foot of customer complaints and tested to verify the foods safety and shelf-life. However, it should not be necessary to repeat any laboratory work carried out to estimate, and set, food shelf-life unless the food or its production process is modified or changed.
What must be considered when determining shelf-life for ready-to-eat foods that support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes?
Food businesses operators, particularly those responsible for manufacturing ready-to-eat foods that are able to support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes and that may pose a Listeria monocytogenes risk for public health, have additional requirements for shelf-life under Article 3(2) and Annex II of Regulation 2073/2005/EC on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs.
Applicable food business operators should:
- Determine the physico-chemical characteristics of their product
- Consult scientific literature and research data on the growth and survival characteristics of the microorganisms of concern
The food business could also, as necessary:
- Conduct predictive mathematical modelling to estimate the amount of growth of the microorganisms of concern in the food product
- Carry out challenge studies to determine the growth potential or maximum growth rate of the microorganism of concern in the food product when it is artificially contaminated
- Carry out durability studies to evaluate how the microorganism of concern grows or survives if naturally present in the food product.
The following guidance is available from the European Commission and European Union Reference Laboratory for Listeria monocytogenes on determining shelf-life of applicable food products:
EURL Lm Technical Guidance Document on challenge tests and durability studies for assessing shelf-life of ready-to-eat foods related to Listeria monocytogenes (Version 4 of 1 July 2021). This document is aimed at laboratories. It provides them with detailed information on how to conduct shelf-life studies, in particular challenge studies and durability studies.
- EURL Lm/Anses (2023) EURL Lm Guidance Document to evaluate the competence of laboratories implementing challenge tests and durability studies related to Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods (Version 3 – 10 February 2023). The aim of the present guidance document is to set up a harmonized approach to evaluate the competence of laboratories conducting shelf-life studies (challenge tests and durability studies), in order to comply with the food safety criteria defined in (EC) Regulation No 2073/2005, as amended. This document is intended for use by national Competent Authorities (CAs), NRLs and other organizations that are involved in assessing whether laboratories are competent to conduct shelf-life studies related to Listeria monocytogenes. This assessment may be undertaken through an audit, or based on a shelf-life study report.
- EU (2013) Guidance Document on Listeria monocytogenes shelf-life studies for ready-to-eat foods under Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 of 15 November 2005 on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs. This document is aimed at food business operators producing ready-to-eat foods. It helps them to decide if L. monocytogenes is a risk in their product. It also helps them decide which shelf-life studies are needed.
The following International Standard is available for conducting challenge tests of food and feed products which specifies protocols for conducting microbiological challenge tests for growth studies on vegetative and spore-forming bacteria in raw materials and intermediate or end products.
- ISO 20976-1:2019 Microbiology of the food chain — Requirements and guidelines for conducting challenge tests of food and feed products — Part 1: Challenge tests to study growth potential, lag time and maximum growth rate
The FSAI has also produced a guidance note on the enforcement of Regulation (EC) No. 2073/2005 which contains useful information:
Guidance Note No. 27 on the Enforcement of Commission Regulation (EC) No. 2073/2005 on Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs
- Further Information