Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production
meat in display case

Improve shelf life with a robust evaluation of good manufacturing practices.

Posted October 13, 2020 by Steve Larsen, Technical Services Manager
Food Safety

Every processor wants to extend the shelf life of meat products. Whether it’s shipping pork loins internationally or transporting chicken breasts a few states over, a longer shelf life provides opportunities to expand into new markets. Not to mention that a longer shelf life allows consumers flexibility to safely consume products over a longer period of time.

Alongside food safety, the goal at many processing plants is to maintain or even increase product shelf life. Reduction of shelf life by 1-2 days can increase food waste, contributing to significant revenue losses each year. However, what if your goal shifted to extending shelf life rather than simply protecting it?

The easiest way to increase shelf life is by minimizing spoilage bacterial loads on meat and providing a clean environment during processing. From the moment processing begins through the time products are in the hands of consumers, maintaining proper cold chain management is vital in limiting bacterial growth. The type of final product packaging also impacts shelf life during transportation. When spoilage bacteria grow on meat and equipment, it can lead to less than favorable flavors and colors. So, a clean manufacturing process combined with good cold chain management and quality packaging materials is a recipe for shelf life success.

Evaluate practices and standards.

It’s important to check every facet of processing to optimize shelf life potential. Staying up-to-date with your customer’s standards regarding quality and shelf life is vital and will help get a leg up on shelf life. Consider the following questions when evaluating shelf life potential for your operation and for your customer’s needs:

  • Do your antimicrobial interventions reduce shelf life bacterial load?
  • Do you validate your equipment and environmental sanitation program?
  • Process control: are aerobic or total plate counts taken routinely on all products?
  • Can improvements be made in cold chain management to increase shelf life?
  • Does the type of packaging improve your shelf life?

Antimicrobial Intervention – Carcass wash.

An effective carcass wash can reduce bacterial loads to improve shelf life. Starting with a cleaner carcass ultimately allows the rest of the process to remain clean. Technology can provide effective tools to help achieve a clean process.

Food safety products like broad spectrum antimicrobials can help food processors reduce shelf life bacterial contamination as well as harmful pathogens. Applying an antimicrobial to poultry, beef and pork carcasses protects them from contamination and gives meat a better start. One ARM & HAMMER customer utilized antimicrobial PorciBrom in the carcass wash, extending the shelf life of pork loins shipped to Japan by five days—a win for both the processor and the customer.

Sanitation matters.

Carcass cleanliness doesn’t matter if equipment isn’t properly cleaned and sanitized. Sanitation maintains and restores a state of cleanliness, fighting off bacteria that decrease shelf life. Tailor your sanitation plan based on soil load, surface areas to be cleaned, time and other factors that affect cleaning. Read more about sanitation best practices on The Dish.

Cold chain management.

Maintaining the quality and safety of meat products is highly dependent on cold chain management practices. Bacterial growth increases in warmer environments, causing spoilage to occur at a faster rate. Meat is a perishable product and, therefore, has a short selling time if the cold chain is improperly maintained.

Processors must effectively manage the cold chain system in plants and on trucks to help meet their shelf life goals. At a minimum, cold chain management should maintain expected shelf life potential. At best, it should increase shelf life.

Packaging materials.

A variety of packaging materials and practices can impact shelf life—from different films, thicknesses and levels of oxygen permeability to types of packaging, including vacuum packaged, gas flush or overwrap. The quality and effectiveness of packaging can determine the end point of product shelf life.

An all-angles approach to shelf life.

A comprehensive look at the meat processing chain heightens processer commitments to upholding quality standards for meat products. To meet those commitments, consider getting a fresh set of eyes to review your entire processing system and identify areas of improvement, ultimately providing opportunities to boost product quality. Maintaining and enhancing good practices throughout the entire manufacturing process mitigates opportunities for reintroduction of bacteria and lengthens shelf life. Because at the end of the day, shelf life is a mark of overall product quality and has substantial impact on success.

Contact an ARM & HAMMER representative to learn how you can bolster shelf life.

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