Shelf-life guidance for vacuum and modified atmosphere packed (VP/MAP) chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork with respect to non-proteolytic Clostridium botulinum has been updated across the UK.

The updated guidance now explains that the 10 day shelf- life rule no longer applies to VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork and that if a food business chooses to apply guidance for these foods then a 13 day maximum shelf-life may be applied.

The update follows last month’s public consultation seeking views on various options to change the previous 10-day maximum shelf-life best practice guidance for these products concluded. 

The decision was 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 these specific products in line with their existing food safety management systems, in the same way they already do for other types of food.

Moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ system, the new approach will benefit both consumers and industry, continuing to ensure high food safety standards and reducing unnecessary food waste.

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 will have no negative impact on food safety.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) Head of Food Safety and Standards Policy, Garry Mournian, said:

“The UK has a robust legal framework and the food industry is responsible for ensuring food placed on the market is safe.  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.

“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 on a Joint Food Standards Scotland/Food Standards Agency Industry working group, who have discussed the guidance over the past six months as part of the review process, welcomed the decision.

Martin Morgan, Executive Manager for the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers said “This outcome will be welcomed by all our members.  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.”

David Lindars, co-chair of the working group and Technical Operations Director of the British Meat Processors Association, said:

“I welcome this decision, which 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.”

The review of the best practice guidance, which aims to reduce the risk of foodborne botulism, found no evidence of outbreaks related to these products globally, and included a report by an Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) subgroup.

“While larger businesses may seek to implement and validate their own shelf-lives for VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork using industry guidance and their own evidence, FSS recognises that small and medium sized food businesses may not have the suitable resources or expertise”.

Therefore, they will be able to use the new ACMSF recommendation for their VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork, should they wish to do so. This means that they can apply a shelf-life of a maximum of 13-days period for these products without further activity to demonstrate the safety in relation to C. botulinum.

This review applies only to VP/MAP chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork without added ingredients or further processing beyond cutting, packing, chilling, freezing and quick-freezing. It does not apply to any beef, lamb or pork that is subject to further processing such as mincing, cooking or mixing with any other ingredients such as herbs, spices or curing salts.