Use-by dates on red meat in the UK should be extended, say industry experts who are lobbying the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to endorse scrapping the current 10-day cap and extending it to 21 days or more.
According to 2008 guidance from the FSA, clarified in 2017, the shelf life of either vacuum- or gas-packaged fresh meat kept at 3-8C should be limited to 10 days unless “suitable grounds for a longer shelf life can be identified”, such as high salt content or low pH.
Industry experts are contesting the guidelines, calling for a return to the previous situation in which manufacturers and retailers determined use-by dates, a shift that could see the shelf life of packaged and chilled red meat extended to three weeks or more.
“We didn’t need this [10-day cap], it was ridiculous this was brought in,” said David Lindars, the technical operations director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA),, adding that legislation already stated that food must be proven safe for the given shelf life.
Beef “is safe at 21 days. You can go beyond that”, he said, adding 21 days is simply a common timeframe used in marketing beef.
A report by the BMPA and Meat and Livestock Australia Limited, published last year with support from a host of supermarkets, contested the FSA’s guidelines, finding a maximum shelf life at 3-8C of up to 23 days for beef, 27 days for lamb, and 18 days for pork provided a high level of protection against Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium behind life-threatening botulism poisoning.
The report also revealed results from experiments in which samples of meat were exposed to such bacteria and kept at 8C. The results, it said, showed that beef did not become toxic before day 50, lamb before day 35, and pork before day 25.
The report suggested ditching the 10-day shelf-life cap would not only benefit retailers and producers, but could also help to reduce food waste.
According to Wrap, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, households in the UK throw away 240,000 tonnes of beef, pork and poultry products every year, not counting bones and fat. About 2.2 million slices of ham are thrown away every day.
Lindars said the FSA had since requested further evidence, which he now co-chairs a group of industry experts, retailers and FSA members to gather. They plan to present their findings by the end of next month.
“One would hope in October we will get the official guidance reviewed,” he said.
An FSA spokesperson said the agency was conducting a review into shelf life of packaged and chilled red-meat products and would look at all available evidence, including the examination of specific evidence for alternative use-by dates.
“The FSA is committed to maintaining the highest food safety standards possible. Everything we do is based on the latest scientific evidence and risk analysis to ensure protection of public health,” the agency said.
“We are currently undertaking a review of evidence, including an assessment by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) and from international sources, regarding the shelf life of vacuum- and modified atmosphere-packed, chilled, fresh beef, lamb and pork.
“This review, which we are working closely with the industry on, will consider an update of the FSA’s guidance in this area, and is expected to be completed later this year. ”