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Shelf-life Determination

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:

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.

 

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

Get more information on Regulation (EC) No. 2073/2005 and microbiological criteria 

Last reviewed: 27/6/2019

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