The last thing you want is spoiled food in your fridge, and sometimes food will look edible but have already passed its best before dates. Everyone knows how important it is to throw out any food that has gone rotten and America reported $162 billion worth of food was discarded each year.
In food manufacturing, there is more than just the best before dates. Some items may even have a sell-by or use-by date printed on the packaging. Food companies don’t have to specify all three and most often you will only see a best before date. Here are the ways that food manufacturers determine a product’s best before date and how you can tell which food will be safe long after that date has passed.
Microbial testing is when food manufacturers add a pathogenic microorganism to food that can make someone sick. The objective is to test different pathogens that are likely to interact with food items at normal consumers’ homes. This process is generally drawn out over time because it requires manufacturers to test how long a certain food item can remain in storage once it has been exposed to different conditions.
Microbial testing uses extreme temperatures, rough handling, and different lengths of storage time to determine how long certain food will remain safe to consume. These may range from a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the food item and pathogen added.
Most of the testing required to determine a food item’s best before date has already been done by other researchers. This means that storage testing is only needed when a new food is introduced or when ingredients change. With all the studies that have been done on microbial testing, specialized software is now available that has all that information preloaded.
This is highly beneficial to speed up food manufacturing turnaround times because best before dates are already determined. Software such as a date coder from Diagraph, which automatically prints best before dates, is very useful.
The level of acidity and preservatives in some food production can also change the best-before dates by keeping the food fresh for longer. In many cases, vinegar, sulfites, vitamin E, and benzoates are used to preserve specific foods, and the best before dates can be treated as more of a guideline
Food that has visible signs of rot and mould should be discarded even if the best before date is still in the future. Preservatives can only keep food fresh for so long, and if you expose food to sunlight or oxygen, it can start to go off much quicker.
Manufacturers of food want to ensure that consumers are getting fresh, edible, and safe food. Best before dates can help to tell a person when a food is likely to spoil, however, there are methods that can increase the lifetime of a product. Best before dates are usually given a few weeks before food can be deemed inedible, and manufacturers continue to use these methods to keep consumers safe by determining accurate best before dates.