Improving shelf life and minimising food waste

1.9 million tonnes of food are wasted by the food industry every year in the UK. With pressure on the supply chain continuing to increase, decreasing food waste is at the forefront of the industry’s mind. Increasing the shelf life of a product can not only decrease the waste in a manufacturing facility but will also provide a better product to the retailer, and in turn, the consumer.

There are many ways in which you can preserve a product and increase its shelf life. Whilst not all foods deteriorate quickly, importing and exporting ingredients can mean that a product is not potentially reaching a customer with as long a shelf life as it could.

Why should I preserve my food?

Whilst preserving can extend the shelf life of a product, it can also minimise food wastage and help save business money. Preserving food allows money to be saved by minimising waste output and expanding the readiness of produce. It can be used as a form of storing food, making it accessible should demand increase rapidly, for example gaining a new contract.

How do I increase the shelf life of my product?

Some methods of food preservation may alter the taste and texture of the foods, which is important to consider when you are deciding which method to use. The preservation of food takes place when the bacteria found on the food is either killed or the growth of them is prevented.

          1. Refrigeration

Refrigerating can slow down the activity of the bacteria and can preserve food for weeks longer than it would without being refrigerated. Freezing food prohibits any movement from the bacteria, making it inactive.  Freezing and refrigerating food allows it to maintain the same texture and taste and is the most popular form of food preservation. Many foods and ingredients such as fruit, vegetables and meat can be frozen for months and still maintain the same taste and texture.

          2. Blast freezing

Products can be blast frozen at a manufacturing plant prior to being sent to the wholesaler/retailer. Blast freezing is the process whereby the temperature of a product is reduced very quickly; maintaining as many nutrients as possible.  When the product is ready to be sent to the retailer/wholesaler, it can be returned to its original temperature ready to be placed on supermarket shelves; this process is called tempering. It is safe and aims to maintain the products taste and texture.

          3. Dehydration

Dehydration is one way in which products can be preserved.  When food is dehydrated, the bacteria die or become inactive. When the product is then kept in an air-tight container, it can last a lot longer than it would from fresh. Examples of this include dehydrated milk or pasta. Dehydrating can often modify the taste and texture of foods such as meat and fruit. A way in which the food can be dried but the taste and texture remains similar is freeze-drying. This process includes putting frozen foods into a heavy-duty vacuum. The ice turns into a vapour; a common process used for coffee and fruit.

          4. Salting

Salting can help preserve foods, specifically meat. This technique has been used for many years. The process involves using salt to remove the moisture, creating an environment in which bacteria cannot survive. Salted meat can last a long time and the process is used to create products such as ham, dried beef, pastrami and corned beef.

          5. Chemical Preservation

Chemical preservation can also be used to increase the shelf life of foods. Naturally occurring and/or synthetic substances are added to foods in order to prevent the growth of or kill bacteria.  Chemical preservation can enhance the aesthetics of certain foods but have been recognised to have links to some health risks. If your preferred method of preservation is chemically, you must state the chemicals used on the back of the packaging.

          6. Packaging

The packaging of a product can affect its shelf life too. Packaging Europe has stated that vacuum packing foods such as meat, cheese and fish can extend their shelf life by weeks, compared to polystyrene trays and clingfilm that can have a shelf life of less than a week.

Cotswold Dairies cold store

To discuss how you can improve the shelf life of your products call 01623 516 666 or send the team a message via the contact page.