Shelf Life Dating

Based on years of experience and extensive research by academia, industry, and government, the basic shelf lives of fresh or processed products stored at specified temperatures are known (27) and are used in establishing Pull Date, Sell by Date, or Best if Used by Date. These designations represent the dates at which a time that roughly corresponds to the product's shelf life has elapsed since the Date of Pack. One or another of these dates printed either explicitly or in coded form can be seen on many products intended for refrigerated, frozen, or room temperature storage. Although normally adequate for situations where temperature is relatively well controlled, this approach is inadequate to ensure quality if the storage equipment fails or if high average temperature is unavoidable.

Temperature Effects

The influence of the combined temperature-time effect can be illustrated with results on the acceptance of Meal, Ready-to-Eat components stored at different temperatures (28). Based on shelf life defined as the time it takes for an acceptance rating to decrease to 5 on a 1 to 9 he-donic scale, researchers found a wide variation in shelf lives among different components at any single temperature and in the sensitivity of shelf lives to temperature changes. At 80°F, the average shelf life for all entree items was found to be 140 mo, whereas pastry items last for only 40 mo. Most important, the pastry items are insensitive to changes in temperature, the shelf life dropping slightly to 32 mo as the temperature increases to 110°F, while in contrast, the fruits are extremely sensitive, their average shelf life dropping from 180 mo at 90°F to 20 mo at 100°F. The combined effect of temperature and time is such that, in terms of quality degradation, exposure for short times at high temperature is equivalent to long times at lower temperatures.

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