The shelf life of frozen food could be extended to up to 18 months under new industry guidance.
The guidance is from the British Frozen Food Federation in collaboration with Defra, Primary Authority and Wrap, and backed by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, UKHospitality and the Provision Trade Federation.
It aims to help businesses manage unprecedented levels of frozen stock approaching the end of its shelf life by extended best before dates. It’s targeted at businesses supplying hospitality and foodservice, who are holding excessive stocks of frozen food because of the sectors’ shutdown in the pandemic.
EU regulations require that frozen foods are marked with a ‘best before’ date, but the sale of a product beyond that date is not illegal.
The guidance sets out suggested safe shelf lives for foods that are ‘blast frozen’ at very low temperatures, which may be well beyond the ‘standard’ storage life. They include 18 months for beef cuts, chicken, and all prepared meat meals.
Others, including several types of fish such as salmon steaks, herring, sardines and mackerel, are given a 12-month recommendation.
A key aim of the guidance was to encourage importers, suppliers, wholesalers and customers to work together to manage the problem, the BFFF said.
Under normal circumstances, the various parties would agree any shelf life extension and relabelling or repackaging would take place at an importer’s cold store, the guidance said. However, due to the sheer number of pallets currently being held in the system awaiting distribution, the usual process could be unmanageable.
The guidance suggests sharing responsibility for relabelling.
“The sector’s recovery depends on all parties working together to manage this challenge and the costs associated with this issue in the coming months,” said BFFF CEO Richard Harrow.
The guidance also includes advice on how to relabel products, including what information should be shown on new stickers.
“Effective communication and greater collaboration across the supply chain will be vital in the months ahead to ensure the safe and appropriate use of frozen food currently held in storage and to reduce unnecessary waste,” added Harrow.
“This new guidance is designed to help businesses facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic mitigate severe losses without compromising consumer safety, while also maintaining the already excellent levels of traceability and transparency across the supply chain.”
Defra food minister Victoria Prentis said: “Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the BFFF and all its members have acted as a united front – working innovatively to keep the supply chain moving and keep our country fed and I thank them for their hard work and commitment.
“Now, as restrictions continue to ease, we all need to work together to do all we can to ensure good, nutritious food does not go to waste. All food that is safe and suitable to eat should be made available for sale or redistributed. We in government are firmly committed to supporting this effort alongside industry.”