CHILLED MEAT has been granted an increased shelf life of 13 days following a UK-wide consultation.

The Food Standards Association has revised its 10-day use-by rule for vacuum and modified atmosphere packed fresh beef, lamb and pork, in a move which is hoped will benefit both consumers and industry.

Moving away from the previous ‘one size fits all’ system should help reduce unnecessary food waste, whilst not compromising food safety, said the FSA.

Households in the UK throw away 240,000 tonnes of beef, pork and poultry products (not counting bones and fat) on an annual basis, according to British charity WRAP, which works with businesses to reduce waste.

This latest decision, taken after an extensive programme of stakeholder engagement and evidence gathering, will mean food business operators (FBOs) can set safe and appropriately validated shelf-lives for specific products in line with their existing food safety management systems, in the same way they already do for other types of food.

The decision has been taken based on a combination of evidence that includes expert microbiological advice, epidemiological information on the occurrence of botulism, and international data over many years on meat products. Implemented correctly, these new guidelines should have no negative impact on food safety.

Meat products that have added ingredients or have undergone further processing beyond cutting, packing, chilling or freezing – such as mincing, cooking or mixing with any other ingredients such as herbs, spices or curing salts – will remain subject to the existing 10-day advice.

“The UK has a robust legal framework, and the food industry is responsible for ensuring food placed on the market is safe,” said Food Standards Scotland head of food safety, Garry Mournian. “Food businesses will be able to follow existing industry guidance to ensure that an appropriate shelf-life is applied to these products, while support will be provided to smaller businesses who may not have this capability by setting a modified 13-day limit.”

Mr Mournian continued: “We are confident that food businesses throughout the UK will continue to put standards and safety at the heart of everything they do, so consumers can be confident their interests come first.”

Industry representatives have welcomed the decision as currently over 10% of meat purchases which are safe to consumers are thrown away in-home, every year.

“This outcome will be welcomed by all our members,” commented Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers executive manager, Martin Morgan. “The clear commitment from FSS and FSA to review these controls based on the very latest scientific evidence and expert advice is commendable and an approach we strongly endorse.”

Co-chair of the working group and technical operations director of the British Meat Processors Association, David Lindars, concurred: “This decision represents modern evidence-based regulation and has been reached thanks to excellent joined-up working between industry and regulator. We are confident that this is a proportionate outcome that will benefit consumers and food businesses and help reduce food waste, whilst not compromising food safety,” he concluded.