UK regulator debates shelf life of MAP packaged foods

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Shelf life, Food safety, Fsa

New shelf-life guidelines for vacuum-packaging and modified
atmosphere products are on the agenda of the UK's food regulator.

The annual report by an independent advisory committee to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) annual report serves as a heads up for food processors on upcoming investigations into improving foodsafety in the country, either through recommendations on new regulation or through increased enforcement. A proposal to limit the shelf life to five days for vacuum packaged and modifed atmosphere packaged (MAP) chilled foods compared to the current 10, has been sent back to the regulator forfurther consideration, the committee reported. The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) concluded that it needed to examine recent scientific evidence prior to making a judgement on the five-day proposal. Thecommittee also proposed that the FSA commission an independent review of the current scientific evidence. The process of vacuum packaging removes air and prevents its return by an airtight seal. In the modified atmosphere or "gas" packaging process, air is also removed and is replaced by a mixtureof gases chosen from carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. Although the techniques can protect food products from external contamination and increase the shelf-life, under certain circumstances a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum may grow. Thebacterium thrives in atmospheres without air, leaving vacuum packed and MAP products more at risk. Some strains of C.botulinum are able to grow and produce toxin at low temperatures. The FSA's guidance document on the safety and shelf life of vacuum and MAP foods is still at draft stage. There was considerable reaction from the food industry in response to the publicconsultation on the proposed guidance, which closed in August 2004, an FSA spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com. The ACMSF made its recommendation in 1995 that the shelf life of chilled foods stored between 5C and 10C should have an assigned shelf-life of five days or less. The recommendation wasreferred back to the advisory committee in December 2004, who then called for the scientific study. The information is expected to be ready by the end of 2005. "There were gaps in the scientific evidence to support the shelflife limitation of five days," the committee stated. "Modelling data to support the five-day proposal wasbased on broth studies with a high loading of C. botulinum, and thus was not representative of what was likely to occur in practice. Recent studies carried out by the retail sector did not reflectthese models." The impact of new technology on food processing also requires consideration as part of the development of a revised guidance, the committee stated. The results of a separate investigation into the development of food safety advice for chilled and frozen puréed baby foods is expected later this year. "The concern will be to ensure that these products, which may not have been heat processed sufficiently to destroy all C. botulinum spores present in the raw material, do not give rise to aconsequent elevated risk of infant botulism," the ACMSF stated. The committee will also be reporting on the outcome of work on botulism in cattle associated with poultry litter. External links to companies or organisations mentioned in this story: Food Standards Agency

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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