Shelf life testing for your food product.
Getting your product shelf life tested for your new food product can be a bit daunting. Any research you do is bound to pull lots of technical, scientific terms that won’t mean much to you unless you have a chemistry degree!
When I was getting the shelf life of my shortbread biscuits certified it took me a while to get my head around things so I thought I’d summarise some key points here, just to help you get started.
Basically, you need to know your product’s shelf life, so you know what expiry date you need to put on your products once they’ve been produced and packaged. Your product expiry date will be expressed either as a ‘use by’ date, or a ‘best before end’ date.
Use by date
This must be used for foods that are high risk and highly perishable. This would include dairy, meat products. These food products are likely to deteriorate really quickly and would pose a risk to health, lead to food poisoning. The ‘Use By’ date expires at midnight on the date shown, after which the food is deemed unsafe and it would be a criminal offence to sell it.
Best Before/Best Before End
This kind of expiry date relates more to the quality of the food. This is the date at which the taste or experience of eating that product may begin to decline. The food will still be okay to eat after this date but just won’t taste at its best. The rules change for the specific shelf life, but if your product is 3 months and under, you should include the day/month/year, 3-18 months at least month/year and for over 18 months at least the year when printing your expiry date. This will apply to most baked products.
What to prepare before you contact a lab
To get your product shelf life tested you’ll need to approach a shelf life testing company or lab. Some producers try to work out their products shelf life themselves but if its really important that you get your shelf life tested properly under lab conditions by experts. If you ever plan to wholesale your products or get SALSA/BRC accreditation this will be a minimum requirement.
Before you approach the testing company there are few bits of information you should have prepared:
- Completed recipe for your product with full ingredients information available.
- A solid idea of how your product will be packaged ie vacuum packed pouch, cello bag or some kind of box.
- A good idea of how/where your product will be sold and consumed.
- the cooking/baking process you’ll be using and under what conditions ie in a domestic kitchen or commercial production environment.
If you are looking for the testing lab to give you recommendations on how you can lengthen your shelf life or any other product development advice then be clear about this from the beginning. This will help to ensure that you get all the information you need.
What to do next
Once you’ve pulled together your information, then its a good idea to contact a few different labs to check if they can help you, if they specialise or can cater for your type of product, their prices and what you’ll get in terms of completed report, additional advice and guidance etc. It’s a good idea to get a few quotes and compare them to see which one offer the best value. Also take into account the vibe you got from your initial discussions. Did it seem like they understood your product and your future plans? Do they take the time to explain things to you in a way that you understand and can take action?
Lastly, do remember that if you change any of the ingredients in the recipe or significantly change the production process or packaging for example at later time, then you may need to do some re-testing to recheck shelf life.
More shelf life testing resources:
1. If you’re looking to find a lab to work with, there is a list of shelf life testing labs available here on the Food Hub Directory.
2. This section of the Food & Drink Federation Website also has helpful resources.
3. You can also get more insight on the topic of shelf life testing for your food product from my facebook live video training. Watch the video here.
4. If you’d like to this receive this information as a free 3 page Shelf Life Testing checklist emailed to you then sign up here and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.
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Kitchen Table Entrepreneur. Helping Food & Drink Start ups succeed.