The FSA’s guidance over the shelf-life of vacuum and modified atmosphere-packed fresh meat is too rigid and should be extended past the current 10 days, meat processors have urged.
New research by the British Meat Processors Association and Meat & Livestock Australia showed use-by dates could be safely extended beyond the FSA’s current recommendations, while the guidance – known as the 10-day rule – should be challenged.
The BMPA said the UK was the only country to enforce the rule. It is seen as a safe margin by the FSA to ensure the c.botulinum bacterium, which causes botulism, doesn’t have the chance to grow and produce toxins.
Under the FSA’s current guidelines, food business operators need to demonstrate a legitimate reason for extending use-by dates past the 10-day point, and would need to have the effectiveness of their control measures evaluated through challenge testing.
But this “rigid application” of the rule disadvantaged UK meat companies, who often missed out on export orders or were forced to sell product at a lower price than their overseas competitors, because the shorter shelf life allowed buyers to negotiate the price down, the BMPA said.
The research, backed by major UK retailers and meat processors, saw scientists conduct a series of challenge tests on a variety of red meat.
Samples of meat introduced to c.botulinium incubated at 8°C did not become toxic until day 50 for beef, day 35 for lamb and day 25 for pork.
The results supported an increase in the minimum shelf-life for processors, the BMPA said, and would remove a “significant technical barrier to trade” as the UK was currently the only country in the world that enforced a 10-day shelf-life rule for chilled fresh meat. They are now set to be peer-reviewed and presented to the FSA for further discussion.
The findings would also give meat processors “the ammunition they need to apply longer retail shelf lives”, said BMPA technical operations director David Lindars.
“It’s not just the commercial benefit to producers, processors and retailers that will result from these findings. Longer shelf life of products will also benefit consumers and the environment through lower wastage and better sustainability,” he added.
“It’s a significant piece of research which will bring significant benefits to everyone involved in the production, selling and consumption of British meat products.”
The 10-day rule and the ease with which use-by dates on fresh meat can be extended hit the headlines at the start of 2018 when the FSA found “systemic and widespread” relabelling of meat at plants owned by collapsed wholesaler Russell Hume.
Further instances of relabelling were uncovered at other meat suppliers last spring, leading the FSA to launch a wide-ranging review of UK cutting plants and cold stores.
In response to the BMPA’s claims, an FSA spokesman said its guidance had been developed using “robust scientific evidence”, drawing on the expertise of the independent Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.
“The ACMSF recommended a maximum 10-day shelf-life for vacuum and modified atmosphere-packed foods stored from 3°C to 8°C in the absence of other controlling factors,” he said.
“However, where such controlling factors are present and where food businesses can satisfactorily demonstrate the safety of their product throughout its shelf life, then longer than 10 days may be applied. When relevant new science is generated it is standard practice to revisit the evidence base and we look forward to receiving this study to consider it.”