Have you ever picked up a frozen dinner and wondered about its true, safe, shelf life? Well, UK food processors have made big strides in extending the shelf life of prepared foods.
A collaborative effort administered by the Sustainable Shelf-Life Extension (SUSSLE) has led to the preparation of pre-packaged foods at much lower temperatures than usual. The gentler cooking process has proven to add substantial shelf-life to these goods and the foods retain their organoleptic qualities that buyers expect.
Participants in the SUSSLE research project included academics, industry experts and consumers. The goal was to determine the viability of lower heating techniques with the purpose of increasing taste and prolonging the shelf life of the products.
SUSSLE Will Extend Shelf-Life To 11 Days
Although a fairly simple innovation, SUSSLE process will extend the shelf-life of these products to 11 days, a standard hailed by retailers. The project was designed to explore the effects of new, low cooking temperatures. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends 90C for 10 minutes. SUSSLE is preparing to request modifications to these definite cooking standards.
Secretary General of the Chilled Food Association (CFA) discussed the new process, “To have an 11-day shelf-life you have to show you can control non-proteolytic C.botulinum by keeping food at a temperature of 90C for 10 minutes. We wanted to challenge this rule, and have identified a new thermal process that can be applied to any fully cooked food such as soups, sauces, and Indian dinners.”
The new protocol would allow the foods to be stored at temperatures between 70C and 90C. It is expected that the consumer will notice the difference in shelf-life and in taste. The lower cooking temperatures enable the food to retain much of its original taste.
Collaborative Research and Funding
The study cost £750,000 and was a three-year research project. The funding was provided by CFA, Unliever, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council. SUSSLE expects to perform follow-up projects. The full results of the study will be confidential until all data is collated. The results should be published in April of 2014.
It is interesting that many of the UK food industry projects are now collaborative. This trend expedites research and brings results to market quicker than independent research. In this case, the collaboration will serve the industry and UK consumers well.
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