Shelf Life…How Do We Extend It?

While walking down the aisles of the local grocery store, customers take a product off the shelf and read the “best by” date, and most of the time the product will be good to purchase and consume. The shelf life of a product, or even the packaging, is determined by

multiple tests and having that product exposed to various conditions to see how the product responds. Don Schaffner says, in this article, “Shelf life is whatever you want it to be if it’s defined in such a way that the product at the end of that shelf life has a quality that is acceptable to you as the owner of the company, and you want your name on that pn-quality-best-untilproduct. You would stand behind that product, in terms of the quality provided to the customer.” Companies in the food industry will face a tradeoff; extend the shelf life and have the tradeoff be, the quality of the food products will go down over time. This is obviously a safety hazard and risk that many consumers don’t want to face. To reduce this risk companies determine the maximum shelf life and at the same time meet a quality standard that satisfies the customers and the company itself. In the food industry, prolonging shelf life is a hurdle that can’t be overcome as of yet. Many manufactures and producers want their products to stay fresh in order to prolong the time it takes to sell, so in turn, there is research being done to extend shelf life.

One proposed method to extending shelf life is high pressure processing. Many processed foods are deemed less healthy than fresh and organic foods, with this new processing method this could be changed. In this article about high pressure processing, Carolyn Heneghan explains its as, “Instead of using heat to kill bacteria, which also lowers the food quality, manufacturers can use high-pressure processing to maintain the foods’ nutrient levels while ensuring chemicals don’t get into the food.” Whole Foods recently picked up an athletes’ coffee drink Sunniva, who uses this type of processing. Whole Foods has said that is has kept the product fresh while extending the shelf life from under a month to four to six months.

Another method is modified atmosphere packaging. From this article, “Modified Atmosphere Packaging is an optimal blend of pure oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen within a high barrier or permeable package. A finely adjusted and carefully controlled gas blend is developed to meet the specific respiration needs for each packaged food product.” This blend of gases slows down the product aging process. These types of packaging offers supply chain efficiencies; it allows food producers and manufactures to “control product quality, availability and costs…permits grocers to eliminate frequent product rotation, removal and restocking; thereby reducing labour and waste disposal costs.” This seems like a great idea for extending shelf life.

While universities, laboratories, doctors, etc. are still conducting research; consumers will still need to be checking on the “best by” label. If these new technologies appear, consumers may not trust the new processing or the packaging at first glance so it will be very important that while this research is being developed food producers and manufactures remain completely transparent in their labeling. Consumers have the right to know how the information about the food they eat and buy for themselves and for their families, especially for something new. Although these methods could be the future to food suppliers and providers, there will be issues that could arise such as costs, quantity, quality, and 1st round risks. We may not see these innovations anytime soon, but they are being perfected and can potentially change the food industry!


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