The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has moved away from a one size fits all approach on shelf life guidance for meat.

The revised guidance covers vacuum packed and modified atmosphere packed (VP/MAP) chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork. It does not apply to meats subject to further processing such as mincing, cooking or mixing with other ingredients like herbs, spices or curing salts.

Existing guidance updated in 2017 puts a shelf life of 10 days on fresh meat. Now, food businesses can set a shelf life for fresh beef, pork and lamb in line with their existing food safety management systems, in the same way they do for other types of food.

The shelf life date on a product will be subject to the business providing supporting evidence to the FSA and local authorities to justify it.

The move is based on expert microbiological advice, epidemiological information on occurrence of botulism, and years of international data on meat products.

Regulator and industry working group
David Lindars, co-chair of an FSA and industry working group and technical operations director of the British Meat Processors Association, said the decision represents modern evidence-based regulation.

“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,” he said.

The working group also included the British Retail Consortium, Chilled Food Association (CFA), Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers.

Karin Goodburn, CFA’s Director-General, said non-statutory guidance and legislation must have a sound scientific basis and address risk proportionately.

“We are delighted that our previous research and guidance work is seen as setting out the appropriate future approach – it is already the bedrock of standard longstanding industry practice,” Goodburn said. “We look forward to contributing to the next phase of the review of FSA’s VP/MAP guidance, which remains unique internationally.”

Change for smaller firms
Processors that have in-house food technicians qualified to interpret scientific information and implement it in the production process can apply the guidance which is effective immediately. For smaller companies without this expertise the default shelf life is now 13 days instead of 10.

The FSA said it recognizes small and medium-sized businesses may not have the resources or expertise needed.

These firms can use the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) recommendation for VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork which means they can apply a shelf life of up to 13-days for such products to demonstrate safety in relation to Clostridium botulinum.

Rebecca Sudworth, FSA director of policy, said industry is responsible for ensuring food placed on the market is safe.

“Food businesses will be able to follow existing industry guidance to ensure that an appropriate shelf-life is applied to these products, while support will be provided to smaller businesses who may not have this capability by setting a modified 13-day limit,” Sudworth said.

A public consultation on changing the 10-day maximum shelf-life best practice guidance was conducted in October and November. Responses have not yet been published.

The decision was reached alongside Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

Martin Morgan, executive manager for the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said: “The clear commitment from FSS and FSA to review these controls based on the very latest scientific evidence and expert advice is commendable and an approach we strongly endorse.”

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