The quality and safety of food products must be granted at each stage of their life: selection of raw materials, processing, packaging and time on shelves. All food products are subject to change over time. Shelf-life is defined as the period during which food keep its quality attributes. In this timeframe, health and hygiene, sensory and nutritional characteristics are maintained at proper levels.
Performing a shelf- life study safeguards the reputation of the Company by assuring the quality of the product while avoiding product recalls.
During its commercial life, it is important that food is available to consumers with the expected quality and characteristics: for this reason, the packaging indicates the expiry date, by which the product is not supposed to change, compromising its usability.
The most reliable method to perform this study consists in putting the product in real-life conditions for a period longer than supposed, and testing the product at pre-set time intervals. The studied parameters, depending on the product, can be chemical, physical, microbiological and/or sensorial.
Shelf-life studies allow the wording “best before (date)” or ”use by” and or expiration dates to be put on the packaging.
They also allow to evaluate the PAO (Period After Opening) on some products, thus determining how long the product is still eatable after the opening.
Shelf-life studies should be planned by the food producer, anytime he develops or modifies a product, a manufacturing process or the packaging.
Before starting any shelf-life study, Mérieux NutriSciences assesses and designs the appropriate protocol for the product, collects and evaluates useful information such as: history of the product, physical-chemical characteristics (pH, AW, humidity), nutritional declarations, kind of packaging, storage conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.), the process (sterilization, drying, pasteurization).
We also investigate whether there are previous studies already carried out on the product or similar, that can be used as a reference to choose the best approach to set up the study.
In addition, shelf-life studies include:
- studies in “temperature abuse” or “cold chain breakage”, to check product’s behavior when exposed to higher temperatures than recommended for optimal conservation (as it happens during transportation and storage stage, at the point of sale, or at customer’s place before consumption)
- simulations with predictive models in addition to experimental studies, based on computer applications calculating the potential growth rate of microorganisms
- accelerated shelf-life to predict the real shelf- life, by putting the food in special storage conditions (light, temperature, humidity, etc.) to ease the acceleration of chemical reactions that would take longer in normal conditions
- challenge studies with various spoilage or pathogen organisms such as yeasts or Listeria monocytogenes
- packaging interaction evaluation
We also perform:
- specific tests for nutritional declarations and claim validation (e.g. vitamin content, lactobacillus presence, etc.)
- evaluation of possible causes for food defects (e.g. microorganisms presence, smells, foreign bodies, etc.).
Shelf-life research is a dynamic process since additional data may be collected over time and products monitored throughout the supply chain. Mérieux NutriSciences assists customers with any additional test required and in the event of alerts or complaints.