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The Shelf-life Guidance, issued by the UK Chilled Food Association and the British Retail Consortium, has been designed to help all businesses calculate an accurate safe time period that certain foods can be kept before they are eaten.
It will also help firms meet European Microbiology rules – especially Regulation (EC) no: 2073/2005. This rule sets limits on micro-organisms in food, such as Listeria.
The guide covers a range of practical topics including requirements for the safe manufacture of RTE foods, establishing shelf-life and a checklist for buying RTE ingredients
Kaarin Goodburn, general secretary of the CFA, which led food manufacturing sector input, said: "We are pleased that such a wide range of organisations participated in developing the Guidance. We hope it will provide vital information on how to set shelf life, what the key pre-requisites are for making ready to eat food, and the basic principles of what to look for when selecting ready to eat ingredients."
Practical and regulatory advice
The document was put together as a result of partnership between a host of industry bodies including the Food Standards Agency and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) with the National Reference Laboratory Services for Food Microbiology (Health Protection Agency) participating as an observer.
It also includes a list of questions and answers about what to do if Listeria monocytogenes are detected at a low level in an ingredient/food before the end of shelf life, how to measure pH and advice on when challenge testing would be appropriate.
Liz Redmond from the Food Standards Agency Head of Hygiene and Microbiology Division, said: "People need confidence in the safety of the food they buy; this guidance adds to the good work already being done by the food industry, CIEH and the FSA to achieve this. I hope businesses and enforcement officers will find this a useful addition to the range of food safety information available to them."
A copy of the Shelf-life Guidance can be downloaded via the following link
In an interview last year with FoodProductionDaily.com, Goodburn also voiced her concern that the increasing prevalence of Listeria could be linked to the lengthy shelf-life assigned to some Listeria-prone RTE foods – particularly in some continental European countries. In some cases, she said these can be up to twice as long compared to the UK
She suggested it was possible that rising rates of Listeria could be linked to longer shelf lives allowed for foods such as RTE smoked salmon, meats and specialist cheeses.
Combating Listeria in RTE foods has also become the focus of European concern. Last October, the European Commission said it would be contributing more than €1.5m to a survey on the prevalence of the bacteria in some RTE foods across the economic bloc.