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Every manufacturer has a responsibility to make their products as safe as possible for the end user. For those operating in the food and beverage sector, as well as reducing the risk of contamination and ensuring everything is prepared in a clean environment, clear adherence to - and labeling of - shelf life dates can make or break your professional reputation and put contracts at risk.
Several different food labeling systems are commonly seen in stores, such as “expiration”, “sell by”, or “used by” dates. While these often relate to the overall quality of an item, a “shelf life” date refers to a product’s chemical and microbiological characteristics and can determine whether it remains safe to eat after a certain period of time
The general public are also becoming more aware of their food supply chains, and their demands are increasing. A survey of 1,000 consumers in the US found that over half worry about the safety of fresh and frozen foods when it’s being transported to stores - and knowing that stores are using the latest food industry software to mitigate any risk would make them more likely to shop there than at a competitor that wasn’t.
As well as maintaining a good reputation, keeping tight control of manufacturing processes such as shelf life management can also benefit food manufacturers. With better transparency over the latest industry guidelines, as well as the differing needs of each end customer, wastage of raw materials and the finished product can be dramatically reduced at both the manufacturing facility and the store.
Official guidance is constantly changing, driven by insights from agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The UK’s Food Standards Agency recently revised its shelf life guidance over meat, removing its ‘one size fits all’ approach, and putting the power in the hands of each food business and their existing safety management systems. If it proves to be successful and the FDA mirrored these rules, the need for effective meat processing software with the ability to assign shelf life days or percentage requirements for each customer would prove vital in adhering to them.
With the ongoing supply chain challenges caused by global events, wastage can also occur from too little or sometimes, too much raw material stock. In this case, freezing can help to preserve the quality of the product, but it must be frozen within its expiration date. If so, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is satisfied, stating that, “Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.” Of course, clear labeling and process control is crucial in this instance to maintain food that is safe and of good quality before it can be frozen and stored.
While the fundamental elements of shelf life safety will remain the same, specific nuances of rules are constantly changing - as seen from the UK’s meat guidance. Even from store-to-store, strategies over First-In, First-Out (FIFO) or First-Expired, First-Out (FEFO) shelf stacking practices rely on complete transparency and traceability on shelf life dates at every stage of the supply chain.
A flexible ERP (enterprise resource planning) system for food manufacturers that incorporates specialized shelf life prediction tools is necessary to create an accurate audit trail and manage each product accurately. In a worst case scenario, this level of traceability can also help the FDA to seek the source of any outbreaks of bacteria, such as this recent salmonella outbreak, which was linked back to an ice cream manufacturer, so it can be managed quickly.
Shelf life rules are just one of the many factors that food manufacturers must keep strict control over, alongside tasks such as producing certificate of analysis (CoA) documents, overseeing accurate inventory data, and more. Specialized food industry software such as ERP systems developed for the sector can help to track each aspect of a busy manufacturing plant or warehouse, reducing the risk of manual errors over elements such as product labeling, and maintaining excellent levels of service.
Our ERP system for food manufacturers, Deacom, can help to manage product shelf life rules for customers with varying shelf life requirements. It can assign expiration dates based on shelf life parameters, and only allow products that meet the customer’s specified shelf life requirements to be shipped to the end-customer.
In the following brief product tour, we demonstrate how Deacom ERP enables food manufacturers to better manage the shelf life requirements of finished goods that they must ship to customers. The software allows for greater control over viewing, picking, and shipping inventory that specifically meets the qualifications added to the system.
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About the Author