A product’s shelf life is critical in the food manufacturing sector. Manufacturers can predict how long a product will retain its quality after manufacture through shelf-life testing. The shelf-life test also enables companies to determine an accurate expiration date for a product when it reaches consumers.
When testing a product’s shelf life, manufacturers require a method that produces an accurate result in the shortest time possible. One of such methods is accelerated shelf life testing, which shortens the real-time simulation process.
Read more about accelerated shelf-life testing and its significant benefits.
But First: What Is Shelf life?
It is the period after production that a product retains its quality and remains safe for use.
When determining shelf life, manufacturers consider several factors that will determine how long the product will last.
Shelf life depends on the following:
Every product consists of raw materials that form the bulk of its composition. If a product contains raw materials, the shelf life depends on the materials used.
For instance, changing the raw materials of a product through processing or storage will require a review of the final product’s shelf life. If unaltered, the product’s shelf-life may be shorter or longer than expected.
Different products require different packaging conditions. As a result, shelf life varies according to the packaging material used for the product.
Vacuum packaging, for instance, removes air from the packaging material before sealing it. When manufacturers remove air from the packaging material, bacteria that grow in the presence of oxygen have no suitable environment for survival. As a result, the product can last longer.
The storage temperature determines how long a product will retain its quality after manufacture. Therefore, applying a consistent temperature regime during storage and manufacturing is essential.
Consumers will typically use food products in high-risk and low-risk environments. In a high-risk environment, the aim is to prevent food contamination from existing microorganisms. On the other hand, a low-risk environment focuses on reducing the growth of bacteria.
Whether high risk or risk, the level of hygiene determines how long a product will last after manufacture.
Usage After Opening
Once opened, various products have different shelf lives. For instance, a pack of flour will last longer after opening than a packet of fresh fruit juice. Thus, when manufacturing products, manufacturers consider the likelihood or unlikelihood of using a product immediately after opening the packaging material.
Accelerated Shelf-life Testing (ASLT)
ASLT is an indirect technique of determining a product’s shelf life, where manufacturers store products under highly stressful conditions. Through a scientific approach, manufacturers can facilitate physiochemical changes that promote degradation.
Under ASTL, temperature and humidity are essential to facilitate degradation conditions. By setting storage temperatures and humidity within predetermined times, manufacturers can predict the shelf life and assign an expiry date.
For instance, a product that retains its quality at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius and 75% relative humidity for six months can have a 24-month shelf life.
Accelerated shelf-life testing is necessary when manufacturers have to make quick decisions in a short time. The method also comes in handy if product manufacturers are under pressure to launch a new product within short notice.
The success of a product’s shelf life testing depends on surface texture, moisture content, and pH levels. As a result, not all products will qualify for the accelerated shelf-life testing procedure.
Common products launched under accelerated testing include:
- Confectionary products such as bread and biscuits.
- Dry powdered products.
- Dry cereals.
Benefits of Accelerated Shelf-life Testing
As the name suggests, the most incredible perk that ASLT offers is the shortened time of shelf-life testing. Unlike conventional shelf life testing, where manufacturers use real-time simulation to degrade a product, ASLT facilitates rapid degradation, reducing the shelf life testing time by half the standard time required.
In addition, ASLT offers the following benefits:
Accelerated Shelf-life Prediction
Unlike real-time testing, accelerated testing helps companies predict a product’s shelf life earlier. Through ASLT, manufacturers can achieve a planned product launch, having obtained a timely and reliable expiration date for the product. In addition, the technique ensures manufacturers have adequate information about the product’s quality which forms part of routine audits and inspections.
Improved Packaging and Storage
A product’s packaging and storage go a long way to determine its overall quality. Without proper storage, bacteria may enter the product and rapidly facilitate degradation.
Luckily, the rapid results from accelerated testing can help companies determine the best storage and packaging conditions. When product manufacturers know how to store a product correctly, they can avoid bad storage and preserve the product’s freshness.
Accelerates Product Innovation
The high-stress ASLT conditions ensure a rapid degradation of a product’s quality, raising the shelf life testing time.
Therefore, manufacturers can have enough time to gather the necessary data when developing a new product. Moreover, manufacturers can eliminate any critical factors early in the development stage before releasing the product. The net effect of the system is an accelerated innovation process that helps the company save on the cost of production.
Determines the Extreme Conditions of Product Quality
During accelerated shelf-life testing, a product undergoes various degradation steps. Sometimes, scientists may opt to store a product under extreme conditions that do not match average storage conditions. Scientists will then have an opportunity to observe how the product reacts to different situations.
The information is critical if manufacturers need to understand how a product behaves under different storage conditions. For instance, products destined for regions with high-temperature fluctuations may require accelerated shelf-life testing before dispatch.
Protects Business Reputation
As previously mentioned, product manufacturers who use accelerated testing benefit from the rapid prediction of shelf life. Subsequently, the technique eliminates the risk of dispatching low-quality products into the market. Manufacturers can therefore keep at bay customer complaints arising from quality issues.
Moreover, ASLT gives prior insights into the common inhibitors of shelf life, which manufacturers can mitigate during the product’s innovation. The result is an optimized production process that guarantees high-quality products.