Supermarket meat 'fit to eat' after 50 days, study finds

Katie Morley
Sell by dates signal when food is no longer safe to eat, unlike best before dates which indicate food quality - Telegraph 

Supermarket meat is fit to eat after up to 50 days on the shelf, scientific research has found, as sell-by dates could soon be relaxed.   Advances in food packaging means beef can stay fresh and safe for consumption for up to seven weeks, a report by the  British Meat Processors Association found, as long as it is chilled at 8 degrees C or below. 

Lamb can last 35 days while pork can last 25 days, it found.

This is despite official food safety regulations currently stating that meat must not have a sell-by date more than more than 10 days from the point of manufacture, unless the producer has sought special permission. 

It means thousands of tonnes of meat may be needlessly being thrown in the bin because consumers are being wrongly told it is unsafe to eat. 

Sell-by dates signal when food is no longer safe to eat, unlike best before dates which indicate food quality. Meat which is past its sell by date may cause food poisoning if eaten, even if it smells and looks fit to eat.

However the rules could soon change as sell-by dates on meat are now set to be reviewed by the Food Standards Agency, it said.

A Food Standards Agency spokesman said: “When relevant new science is generated it is standard practice to revisit the evidence base and we will now consider the findings of this report.”

The British Meat Processors Association, which commissioned scientists at Camden BRI to do the research, is hoping that the FSA will relax rules on meat sell-by dates, meaning they can be extended and less meat will be wasted. 

To last significantly longer than 10 days meat must be packaged in vacuum packed or air modified packaging, which dramatically slows down its degradation via spores carried in the air. 

The FSA said its current guidance was developed using robust scientific evidence, drawing on the expertise of the independent Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.

It comes after a number of supermarkets have dropped "best before" dates from packs over fears they were driving unnecessary amounts of food waste. This leaves consumers to do common sense checks on food such as bread and fruit and vegetables to decide whether it should be eaten. 

David Lindars, a BMPA director who conducted the research, said: "The shelf life of fresh red meat held at 3°C and 8°C is of great significance to the industry.

"These new scientific findings will give meat processors the ammunition they need to apply longer retail shelf-lives to their products.

"It is not just the commercial benefit to producers, processors and retailers that will result from these findings.

"Longer shelf lives of products will also benefit consumers and the environment through lower wastage and better sustainability."