The shelf life of a food is the period of time during which a food maintains its safety and sensory qualities under expected conditions of storage and use. It is determined by taking into account the key factors that characterise the food and any preparation the food has undergone. Particularly important for chilled foods is the temperature at which the product is stored and distributed.
The maximum permissible shelf life of chilled foods, therefore, is based on the microbiological safety and stability of the food, its physical condition and sensory qualities (whichever is the shorter). The most important factors, however, are microbiological safety and stability which always take precedence over other factors.
UK chilled foods are characterised by their short shelf life. They are minimally processed and strict temperature controls are used throughout the whole food chain to maintain safety and quality. Chilled foods are made to order using Just In Time systems and manufacturers operate short production runs with foods often made on the day of delivery to retailers. Unlike many other countries, UK chilled foods have very short shelf lives, typically from 1-10 days.
We worked with the British Retail Consortium and Food Standards Agency on a free publication, “Shelf life of RTE foods in relation to L. monocytogenes” to help food businesses determine the shelf life of ready to eat foods.