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New shelf-life guidance from FSA could help cut food waste

14 December 2020

New research findings have prompted the Food Standards Agency to extend its shelf-life guidance for red meat, potentially reducing food waste.

Following extensive scientific research and testing over several years it is now possible to prove more accurately how long beef, lamb and pork stays fresh and safe when chilled in vacuum packed and in a modified atmosphere. In fact, it’s much longer than first thought which means that use-by dates can be safely extended beyond the current 10 day rule.

Existing guidance places an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all shelf-life of 10 days on all fresh meat, which has led to a huge amount of quality produce that could have been eaten being thrown away each year. The campaign group WRAP estimates that 200,000 tonnes of perfectly good meat is thrown in the bin every year just in the home, often in un-opened packs.

 

So, the decision by the Food Standards Agency to revise the guidance in line with the new scientific evidence is good news for shoppers and restaurants who will waste less money, and good news for the environment which will benefit from a reduction in wasted food and packaging.

The new rules explained

The FSA’s decision was taken based on a combination of evidence that includes expert microbiological advice, epidemiological information on the occurrence of botulism and data on meat products gathered over many years from around the world. This review found no evidence of outbreaks of foodborne botulism related to these products globally.

This means that, from now on, food businesses can choose an appropriate safe shelf-life for chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork that has been vacuum or modified atmosphere packed (VP/MAP) based on their existing in-house food safety management systems, in the same way they already do for other types of food. They will no longer have to apply an arbitrary 10 days.

The difference is that now, the new shelf-life date applied to a particular product will be subject to the individual food business providing supporting evidence to the FSA and local authorities to justify the shelf life of products.

Processors that have in-house food technicians who are qualified to interpret the scientific information and implement it in their production processes will be able to apply this new guidance easily. For the smaller businesses who don’t have that in-house expertise, the new guidance still provides an improvement, with the default shelf-life now being set at 13 days instead of 10.

David Lindars, co-chair of a joint FSA/Industry working group and Technical Operations Director of the British Meat Processors Association, said:

“I welcome this decision, which represents modern evidence-based regulation, and has been reached thanks to excellent joined-up working between industry and regulator.

“We are confident that this is a proportionate outcome that will benefit consumers and food businesses and help reduce food waste, whilst not compromising food safety.”

 

This review applies only to VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork without added ingredients or further processing beyond cutting, packing, chilling, freezing and quick-freezing. It does not apply to any beef, lamb or pork that is subject to further processing such as mincing, cooking or mixing with any other ingredients such as herbs, spices or curing salts. The relevant sections of the FSA best practice guidance continues to apply to these and all other VP/MAP chilled foods.

You can read a detailed statement from the Food Standards Agency on their new guidance here.

Find out more about the campaign group WRAP and their partnership with industry to reduce waste, improve productivity and reduce global warming.



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