Guidelines for Food Shelf Life Evaluation

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Shelf life represents the useful storage life of food. When the shelf life expires, the food may be developing changes in taste, aroma, texture or appearance caused by microbiological or chemical activity within the food.

Microbiological shelf life evaluations are conducted to determine the “best before” or “use by” date of food. This process assists in the formulation, packaging type, design or establishment of recommended storage conditions.

The requirements for shelf life examination will vary according to food type such as ready-to-eat vs. frozen vs. tinned and so on. Also, temperature, water content, time, types of micro-organisms, number and quality of samples and number of replicates will also influence the design of the microbiological shelf life study.

The Microbiology laboratory within Symbio Laboratories can design assurance testing that will build confidence in your product’s safety and quality throughout its shelf life.


As a minimum, the food product should be evaluated on Day 0 (day of manufacture) and at least at 5 date points until Day max (the date at which the shelf life would expire). Further, Day max +50% (day max +50% of the shelf life period). This can be conducted under standard conditions (as per recommended storage conditions) or under challenge conditions (usually increased temperature).


The statistical validity of the analysis will increase with the number of samples analysed. A minimum of 5 sample units from a lot is generally required for examination. For most foods, the predicted shelf life period is divided into 5 to 12 intervals for sample collections and analyses. A minimum sample size of 100 grams or 100 mls is usually required.

Which tests are performed on what day of the trial depends on the type of product as well as the other variables listed above. The team of food safety experts at Symbio Laboratories can help to design a study specifically for your product and its potential challenges.

Symbio Laboratories have an extensive offering of NATA accredited Shelf Life tests and specialist industry experienced staff.

We can discuss your testing requirements, conduct a testing audit and implement a testing plan for you.

Symbio Laboratories – Your Food Shelf Life Testing Experts

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