How can superchilling extend the shelf life of products without affecting quality or safety?

Greg Jones, food microbiologist at Campden BRI, explains why the process should be more widely adopted in the manufacture of chilled products.

17 January 2019
manufacturemeet the expert

Meet the Expert

Who: Greg Jones

What: Microbiologist

Where: Campden BRI

 

What is shelf life and how is it related to food safety and quality?

The shelf life of a product is the time that it remains acceptable to eat. Within this period, the product will remain safe and retain its desired sensory, chemical, physical and microbiological characteristics.

Any product that can support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms must be assigned a 'use-by' date, after which the product must not be sold and should not be consumed.

What influences shelf life?

Shelf life is influenced by many factors, including:

  • raw materials
  • processing
  • product formulation
  • storage and distribution
  • hygiene
  • packaging
  • consumer handling

These factors are considered together to inhibit microbial growth and therefore manage microbiological shelf life.

The advent of superchilling can now allow shelf life to be extended further during storage and distribution.

How can superchilling extend shelf life and maintain quality?

Superchilling reduces the temperature of food products to around -2°C so that they become partially frozen. This allows storage time (compared to chilled equivalent products) to be extended, whilst maintaining high quality levels. Products are stored at superchilled temperatures until they are released into the chill chain.

Research conducted at Campden BRI, as part of a member-funded research project into extending shelf life of chilled products using superchilling, showed that superchilling stored products extended their storage shelf life and had no impact on chilled shelf life once they were released into the chilled distribution and retail chain. Impact on both microbiological and sensory shelf life was also minimal.

The best performing products during the trials were those that had been processed the most with a long chilled shelf life, such as soups.

What are the benefits of extending storage time?

The adoption of superchilling by the chilled foods industry has, so far, been limited to the meat industry, such as its use in bacon manufacture and to extend shelf life of turkeys to build stock before Christmas. Its wider adoption in other areas of the chilled food industry could have dramatic knock on effects, particularly in terms of ‘claiming back’ chilled shelf life, which would otherwise be lost through on-site storage and subsequent distribution. A shelf life extension of one extra day can have huge implications for chilled food manufacture, and this represents the very lowest end of the range of extensions possible using superchilling.

The potential benefits of superchilling are dependent on the product. However, in chilled foods this technique has the potential to build product stock rather than just producing it to order. This would allow longer production runs, better planning of ingredient use, and fewer start-up and shut-down losses. Other benefits may include an ability to ship chilled products beyond national borders and to exploit new overseas markets.

 

Case study: extending shelf life by 140%

 

 

Product

 

Details

Original chilled shelf life (days)

Extra superchill shelf life

Shelf life extension (as

% of original)

Appetisers

Smoked salmon surrounding cream cheese and herb

10

>14

>140%

 

Looking at a specific example, results from an experiment with smoked salmon and cream cheese appetisers showed that superchilling can add more than 14 days to shelf life.

The appetisers were of good sensory quality (taste, smell, etc.) across all the superchill/chill combinations we tested, indicating that a shelf life of over 24 days is feasible.

However, sensory quality did decrease as superchill shelf life increased, which suggests that the maximum chilled shelf life is dependent on the length of superchill shelf life, but that combination was not covered by the research.

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