Shelf life has always been important in the meat trade, as importers in overseas markets request proof of exporter claims about how long their products will remain saleable.
Temperature has by far the largest impact on the shelf life of a product, which means controlling temperature and the cold chain gives the best assurance of a long shelf life. However, a short period of temperature abuse may not have a significant impact on the product.
Previously, the shelf life of a product, based on its temperature throughout shipment, was hard to calculate, but Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has developed a shelf-life prediction tool that, when combined with real-time temperature data loggers, has the opportunity to deliver huge profits and new guarantees of quality for industry on every shipment of Australian red meat.
The shelf-life calculator estimates the shelf life of vacuum-packed beef and sheep primals. The calculator can be used to predict a product’s remaining shelf life, provided that the approximate bacterial levels at packing and the time/temperature record during storage (obtained via data logger devices) are known.
The greatest benefit with real-time logging is that it gives product owners confidence in the cold chain, and allows potential issues to be managed promptly without negatively impacting the product or customer.
Real-time logging is very easy to implement, and the data is available 24/7. The cost of the loggers ranges from $50–80, and purchasers can expect providers to help with initial implementation.
The return on investment can be repaid with excess by saving just one bad shipment, which is usually worth more than $150,000. Data from the trackers can be used to defend against product claims, and processors reported that the cost of logging works out to be about $1456 in claims per shipment, or $0.08/kg.
Some of the companies that provide real-time loggers are also implementing MLA’s shelf-life calculator into their dashboards to provide real-time data on shelf life during shipments. These dashboards tell exporters of any changes in temperature as they occur, enhancing both quality and profits.
Information from the real-time loggers is already revealing useful shelf-life information. The real-time loggers reveal that air freight is more susceptible to shelf-life loss than sea freight; that 10 per cent of cold stores cause product to lose shelf life twice as fast as expected; and that, on arrival in the importing country, 1.2 per cent of sea freight has lost at least an additional two weeks of shelf life over what was expected from the shipping time.