Open Shelflife Dating

The EC Frozen Food Directive demands a minimum durability date on all frozen products. An evaluation of open-dating of foods (5) concluded:

There is little evidence to support or to negate the contention that there is a direct relationship between open shelf-life dating and the actual freshness of food products when they are sold.

The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) (6) found a similar lack of evidence in support of open shelf-life dating when it stated:

The antagonists of mandatory open shelf-life dating of frozen foods quote several disadvantages. The most important requirement for the retention of high quality in frozen foods is the maintenance of an adequately cold temperature. At sufficiently cold temperatures [at least - 18°C (0°F) or colder] frozen foods possess a high quality life far in excess of the period such products spend in the cold chain between processing and consumption. Anything which detracts from good temperature management, such as unnecessary regard for product age, would be counterproductive to the objective of presenting the highest practicable quality to the ultimate consumer.

A food stability survey (7) gives a comprehensive account of the custom and practice in various countries and made a number of recommendations including adoption of the AFDOUS Code (8). Open shelf-life dating of frozen foods, which often have a long practical shelf life (PSL), leads to the erroneous concept that the quality is in some way guaranteed up to the date given irrespective of storage temperature. An intending purchaser when faced with open dating can react in one of three ways. The date can be ignored, in which case the costs associated with open dating will have been in vain. Alternatively the purchaser may rummage to find the "youngest" product, which turns First In First Out (FIFO) into Last In First Out, (LIFO) and puts pressure on the retailer to display product with only one date. This will lead to more out-of-life stock to be disposed of. Finally the purchaser can select the oldest product knowing that this will assist the retailer in managing his inventory on a FIFO basis. Regrettably this last purchaser does not exist!

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