For food, natural health products and cosmetics it is important to ensure the product will maintain its quality, effectiveness and safety over the product shelf life.
For food products with a shelf life under 90 days, it is required by the Food and Drug Regulations to have a best before date displayed on the product. Many consumers have grown to expect to see a best before date shown on products even when the shelf life is over 90 days.
The shelf life of a product will be influenced by the packaging, process, chemical properties, storage conditions and the recipe. The shelf life of food will be determined by a drop in quality (flavour, colour, texture, etc.) or food safety (microbial growth) typically which ever comes first.
To understand quality changes over time, a brand owner can choose to set up their own process.
Store a set of samples from selected production runs and review items from that set over a structured timeframe.
Retain enough samples to test products throughout the expected shelf life and beyond. A product with an expected shelf life of 6 months, could be tested every two weeks until 9 months post production or longer. This helps determine if a shelf life extension is feasible.
Consider storage conditions of the distribution chain (sometimes not ideal).
Record observations, take photos, and compare to fresh samples.
Establish quality parameters (product specifications) to compare aging samples to and to determine what level of change is acceptable.
For some products the limiting factor of shelf life will be the potential for illness and spoilage causing microbial growth. Brand owners of products in this category should engage with a food development centre to formally confirm the shelf life. A food development centre will review chemical properties (water activity, pH, etc.), packaging, recipe, processing and test for microbial growth and chemical changes over time. A food development centre can also test for quality changes (flavour, colour, texture, etc.) and many can set up large scale taste testing (sensory analysis) if desired.
The below document is a list of food development centres in Canada. You are invited to reach out to Venturepark Labs to discuss shelf life studies and your product.
Written By: Marlis Bens, Venturepark Labs Program Manager