‘Good news for businesses, shoppers and environment’: Meat industry welcomes new rules on sell-by dates

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/Pilin_Petunyia
Getty/Pilin_Petunyia

Related tags: Meat, best before date, Packaging

Updated guidance on fresh meat sell-by dates in the UK which abolish the arbitrary 10-day rule is good news for shoppers and restaurants who will waste less money, and good news for the environment which will benefit from a reduction in wasted food and packaging, believes the British Meat Processors Association.

The new guidance​ from the Food Standards Agency allows food businesses to now choose an appropriate safe shelf-life for chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork that has been vacuum or modified atmosphere packed (VP/MAP) based on their existing in-house food safety management systems, in the same way they already do for other types of food. They will no longer have to apply an arbitrary 10 days.

The FSA said that moving from a ‘one size fits all’ approach will benefit both consumers and industry and will continue to ensure high food safety standards and unnecessary food waste is reduced. Implemented correctly, these new guidelines will have no negative impact on food safety, it observed.

The new rules explained

The FSA said its decision was based on a combination of evidence that included expert microbiological advice, epidemiological information on the occurrence of botulism and data on meat products gathered over many years from around the world. This review found no evidence of outbreaks of foodborne botulism related to these products globally.

The new shelf-life date applied to a particular product will now be subject to the individual food business providing supporting evidence to the FSA and local authorities to justify the shelf life of products.

Processors that have in-house food technicians who are qualified to interpret the scientific information and implement it in their production processes will be able to apply this new guidance easily. For the smaller businesses which don’t have that in-house expertise, the new guidance still provides an improvement, with the default shelf-life now being set at 13 days instead of 10.

The new guidance applies only to VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork without added ingredients or further processing beyond cutting, packing, chilling, freezing and quick-freezing. It does not apply to any beef, lamb or pork that is subject to further processing such as mincing, cooking or mixing with any other ingredients such as herbs, spices or curing salts. The relevant sections of the FSA best practice guidance continue to apply to these and all other VP/MAP chilled foods. 

‘Use-by dates can be safely extended beyond 10 days’​ 

The BMPA, which has discussed the guidance over the past six months as part of the review process, said the decision to revise the guidance in line with the new scientific evidence is good news for shoppers and restaurants who will waste less money, and good news for the environment which will benefit from a reduction in wasted food and packaging.

It complained that the arbitrary, one-size-fits-all shelf-life of 10 days on all fresh meat led to a huge amount of quality produce that could have been eaten being thrown away each year. The campaign group WRAP has estimated that 200,000 tonnes of perfectly good meat is thrown in the bin every year just in the home, often in un-opened packs.

The BMPA added that following extensive scientific research and testing over several years it is now possible to prove more accurately how long beef, lamb and pork stays fresh and safe when chilled in vacuum packed and in a modified atmosphere. Use-by dates can be safely extended beyond the current 10-day rule, it claimed.

“For years, fresh meat sell-by dates have been overly conservative but this latest move by the Food Standards Authority could mean consumers can store meat for longer, save money and avoid food waste,”​ a BMPA spokesperson told FoodNavigator.

David Lindars, co-chair of a joint FSA/Industry working group and Technical Operations Director of the British Meat Processors Association, added: “I welcome this decision, which represents modern evidence-based regulation, and has been reached thanks to excellent joined-up working between industry and regulator.

“We are confident that this is a proportionate outcome that will benefit consumers and food businesses and help reduce food waste, whilst not compromising food safety.”

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