In 2020, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced changes to the shelf life guidelines for vacuum and modified atmosphere packed chilled beef, lamb and pork.
Businesses are now able to apply a shelf life of 13 days according to their existing food safety management procedures. This provides additional flexibility to businesses and customers, whilst protecting the environment.
Previously, businesses were forced to adhere to a 10-day shelf life limit, despite the fact that many high-quality food items were still fit for consumption. This led to a huge amount of unnecessary food waste and contributed to the 9.5 million tonnes of food waste that the UK produces every year.
These changes are the result of government initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and food waste whilst ensuring food safety isn’t compromised.
By gaining opinion including expert microbiological advice and information about botulism in meat products around the world, the FSA discovered no risk to public safety from vacuum-packed products. This meant that they could extend the 10-day guideline that dated back to 2017.
“Vacuum packaging can extend product life by removing all air from a package which is then sealed. The removal of the air is the key factor for preservation in these products…” states the Food and Drink Federation (FDF)
To ensure that the needs of businesses and consumers were met, the public were consulted during the process.
As a result, businesses in the industry can now use an in-house expert such as a food technician to interpret scientific information and implement it according to the food safety needs of their unique product.
Smaller and medium-sized companies without this resource can use a default shelf life of 13 days, relieving the financial burden and providing the optimal solution for all concerned.
For the consumer who would have thrown away the food item under previous guidelines, this move reduces the pressure to eat a food product quickly and could potentially reduce their grocery budget.
These guidelines only apply to unprocessed VP/MAP chilled fresh pork, beef and lamb. It doesn’t apply to meat products that have been processed by mincing, chopping, cooking or if other ingredients such as salt, spices, herbs or other similar ingredients have been added.
For more information or guidance on vacuum packing, how to avoid common hazards, control factors and what influences the growth of the c. Botulinum bacteria, consult the FSA guidance here.
Shifts in the UK food industry can happen quickly to ensure that high safety standards are maintained, the needs of businesses are respected and the consumer is taken care of at all times. With these changes, we can reduce food waste whilst ensuring that our businesses can thrive.