The quality of food products must be granted at each stage of their life: selection of raw materials, preparation, packaging, time on shelves. All food products change during time. Shelf-life is defined as the period during which food undergoes tolerable quality reductions that are acceptable to consumers. In this timeframe, health and hygiene, sensory and nutritional characteristics are maintained at proper levels.
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 expiring date, by which the product is not supposed to change compromising its usability.
The most reliable method to realize 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 , sensorial.
Shelf-life studies allow the wording “best before (date)” to be put on the packaging and to evaluate the PAO (Period After Opening) on some products, that determines how long the product is still eatable after the packaging opening. It helps to fine-tune the optimal storage, handling and transport conditions and to identify any problems or weakness that should be considered.
To perform a shelf- life study moreover safeguards the reputation of the Company by assuring the quality of the product while avoiding product recalls.
It should be planned by the producer each time he develops or modifies a product, a fabrication process or the packaging.
Before starting any shelf-life study, Mérieux NutriSciences assesses and design the appropriate protocol for the product, collects and evaluates useful information (history of the product, the company, the performed analyses, etc.), moreover:
- performs real-time food tests such as quality check (microbiological, for example) of the food product before starting the shelf-life study
- evaluates all manufacturing and distribution processes
- performs inspections on raw materials
- searches for previous research projects to check if studies have already been carried out on the product or similar products, and can be used as a reference for the best operational procedure.
In addition, shelf-life studies includes:
- studies in “temperature abuse” conditions to check product’s behavior when exposed to temperatures which are higher than recommended for optimal conservation –as happens during transportation and storage or at the point of sale or customer’s place, before consumption
- simulations with predictive models as an addition to experimental studies, based on computer applications calculating the potential growth rate of microorganisms
- accelerated shelf-life during which food is put in special storage conditions (light, temperature, humidity, etc.) to ease the acceleration of chemical reactions which would take longer in normal conditions, to predict the real shelf- life
- challenge tests with various spoilage or pathogens organisms such yeasts or Listeria monocytogenes
- packaging interaction evaluation
Other services related to shelf- life studies:
- specific tests for 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.