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Shelf Life Testing & Accelerated Shelf Life Testing


Shelf Life Testing To Determine The Expectant Shelf Life for your Product

Turnaround depends on the shelf life you are trying to achieve.

If you are selling your food product in a retail environment; then your retailer will more than likely require a shelf life test. At some point, you should strongly consider getting shelf life testing to give your product a valid expiration date.

RL Food Testing Laboratory Testing offers real time microbiological shelf life testing depending on what shelf life expectancy you are trying to achieve.

In addition to the testing, our microbiologist will analyze your lab reports, provide pass/fail reporting per pull and deliver a complete summary of the laboratory findings upon completion of testing.

The following tests that will be conducted during your shelf life testing service:

  • Organoleptic Testing – Appearance, Aroma, Taste and Texture of your product over time
  • pH
  • Water Activity / Moisture
  • Yeast
  • Mold
  • Aerobic Plate Count – Total Coliforms

Lab testing is a complicated process that involves special equipment which needs to be calibrated and maintained constantly.  The service provided by a lab typically is limited to testing and generating the results data.  Interpretation of those results needs to be done by a qualified microbiologist.  RL Food Testing Laboratory can carry out your testing needs, provide you with detailed reports during testing (shelf life) and a summary at the conclusion of testing. Reporting services by our microbiologist include pass/fail reports and an analysis/evaluation of that data upon completion of testing. All of these services are included when you opt for bundle pricing for your Shelf Life Study.

  • The test samples need to be from a freshly made batch of product, packaged in the final container, with or without final labeling is fine
  • The lab requires 8 full size samples with a minimum of 4 ounces in each or multiples to provide 4 ounces per test.
  • Samples are received at our laboratory Monday thru Friday ONLY (the lab is closed on weekends for deliveries) before 12 noon for first day testing, otherwise, testing will begin the next day.
  • Ship your samples with cold packs or dry ice, as necessary, Overnight, to preserve the integrity of the product.  We will provide the address with the lab submission form once payment has been made.



Shelf Life and Microbiologist Evaluation Report Pricing:  

  • Shelf Life Testing – $1,200 (includes storage fee)
  • Accelerated Shelf Life Testing – starting at $1,700
  • Shelf Life Test Consulting – see link below

Need Help With Your Shelf Life Study?

We can provide a staff-based food scientist who can answer your questions about your shelf life result.

Need An Accelerated Shelf Life Test?

We also offer an accelerated shelf life testing? The accelerated shelf life test accelerates the testing of a product but there are some important aspects of it that you need to know

  • Most retailers will not accept an accelerated shelf test as a result.  It must be run simultaneously with the microbiological shelf life testing – which means you are paying for two tests.  The sample is subjected to a stress test that simulates heat, light and pressure to simulate a shelf presence.  The test becomes a calculated result versus an actual result
  • The turnaround time depends on the shelf life estimate but a good rule of thumb is 1 week for each month of expected shelf life.  Please visit our FAQ page to learn more about shelf life testing Frequently Asked Question (rlfoodtestinglaboratory.com).  For information and prices on an accelerated shelf life test, please visit our Accelerate Shelf Life Testing page.

 Here are some details that may help answer some questions about this type of test: 

  • The testing is conducted from a freshly made batch of product, packaged in the final container (with or without label is fine)
  • Accelerated SLT: The lab requires 8 full size samples with a minimum of 4 ounces in each, or multiples to provide 4 ounces per test for 6 test pulls
  • Combined Real Time and Accelerated SLT: The lab requires 13 full size samples with a minimum of 4 ounces in each or multiples to provide 4 ounces per test for 11 test pulls total
  • Samples are received at our laboratory Monday thru Friday ONLY (the lab is closed on weekends for deliveries), before 12 noon for first day testing, otherwise, testing will begin the next day.
  • Please ship samples with cold packs or dry ice, as necessary, overnight or 2 Day air to preserve the integrity of the product.   The address will be provided on the lab submission form once payment is received.

Shelf Life Testing


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More Info on Shelf Life Testing

What Is “Shelf Life” and What Is “Shelf Life Testing”?

The shelf life for food or beverages is the amount of time for which they will be safe and suitable to consume after manufacturing. Usually, you see this in the form of a “Best If Used By” date on food or drinks – this date is calculated based on the shelf life and the date the food was produced.
Shelf life testing, or shelf stability testing, is the testing done in a food safety lab that helps determine the shelf life for food or beverage products. Basically, the product is tested to see how long it lasts before it spoils (or is otherwise unfit for eating or drinking). The shelf life will be set as an amount of time that is less than the amount time that it took for the product to go bad.

Why Perform Shelf Life Testing?

Although FDA regulations don’t require you to put a “Best If Used By” date on your product (with the exception of infant formula), there are other important reasons you might be benefitted by obtaining shelf life testing from a food testing lab for your new food or beverage product.
One pressing reason is that most food retailers and stores who will sell your product will require that you perform shelf life studies before they will start buying your product. This allows the retailer or store to make sure they don’t sell expired foods, and to keep a fresh inventory.

Knowing the shelf life for foods or beverages is also important to your customers! People buying your food or beverage will want to know how long they can safely keep the food, and shelf life testing will let you add an expiration date or “best if used by” date to keep buyers informed and help prevent food waste.

In addition to these reasons, you might want to work shelf life studies into your product development process. You may be interested in extending the shelf life of your product through different methods and need to verify that you reach your goal for a long shelf life. On the other hand, you may be aiming for a cleaner label and may want to remove preservatives or other ingredients, which could affect how long your food stays safe. In these cases, shelf life testing can give you confidence in the statements you make about your food’s shelf life.

If for these or other reasons you find yourself needing shelf life testing from a food testing lab, RL Food Testing Laboratory can help you through the process – from helping you plan shelf life studies that meet your product’s needs, all the way to receiving your final, easy-to-understand results.

What is the Shelf Life Testing Process Like?

You can think of the shelf life testing process as four easy steps:
1. RL Food Testing Laboratory works with you to create a plan for the shelf life study
2. You send us your product
3. We perform all the necessary shelf life testing in our shelf life testing lab
4. We send you the results of your shelf life study

In the first step, RL Food Testing Laboratory will work with you to make sure your food or beverage gets the right type of shelf life testing. We’ll get some information from you, like your guess of how long your product’s shelf life is, how it will be sold (refrigerated or room temperature), and what ingredients you use. Based on this, we’ll then advise you on the specific shelf life testing that will be best for your food or beverage.

After that, you’re ready to start your shelf life study by sending us your product! Before you rush off to the post office, however, there are some important guidelines we’ll need to review with you to make sure your test results are accurate and that testing goes as smoothly as possible. These include things like how much to send, sending your product in its final packaging, how prepare your food or beverage for testing, how you ship it, etc.

Once your product has arrived at our shelf life testing lab, we’ll start performing the needed tests. These will include several different measures of the safety of your food product, like pH, water activity, aerobic plate count (APC), and any others based on your consultation in step 1. We’ll also check to make sure your food or beverage would still be acceptable to a consumer (for example, in its appearance and aroma). Periodically, we will test each of these measures on your product and send you the results after each test, so you’ll be kept in the loop. Since our shelf life testing is run in real-time (rather than accelerated shelf life testing), your shelf life study will take as long as your food’s shelf life. For example, dried foods with a long shelf life can take up to a year, while foods with a short shelf life, like a refrigerated product, can take as little as a week.

At the end of the shelf life test – either at the end of the planned study period, or when testing shows your product is no longer sellable – we’ll send you the final results. This will include an official record of the results during the entire shelf life study from our microbiologist, an explanation of the results so you know exactly what they mean for you and your product, and of course, the shelf life of your food or beverage.

Maybe, when you get your results back, you wish your food would last a little longer than it did. Don’t worry – RL Food Testing Laboratory can help with that as well. We can recommend different extenders or processing that can help give a long shelf life to your product. From start to finish, RL Food Testing Laboratory is here to support you!

How It Works

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Fill Out Lab Submission Form

After we receive your payment, we will email you our Lab Submission Form.  Work cannot begin without this form.

Please fill out the form and include it with your samples.

 Ship Your Samples and Form

Ship eight (8) minimum 4oz per package freshly prepared samples, in the EXACT packaging you plan to sell the product in, to our lab.

FedEx or UPS / 1 or 2 day air
Samples shipped in glass containers must be double bubble wrapped and labeled “CONTAINS GLASS” on the outside of the package.

*if using glass packaging – submit one additional sample in case of breakage.

If refrigerated, pack with cold packs
Include your completed Lab Information Form. 

 We will send your results to you with an explanation

You will receive a lab report showing your results at the end of each testing point and an explanation provided by our staff microbiologist.  We will provide you with a statement that shows the following: 

Final Report:  “Based upon the findings from this study, a shelf life of  XXXX days at  XXXX temperature is recommended for this product for “best use by date”.”

Turnaround time depends on shelf life expectancy



What You Get

Shelf Life Testing

Includes 6 test points. The following microbes will be tested during your shelf life testing service:

1. pH
2. Water Activity
3. Yeast
4. Mold
5. Aerobic Plate Count

Testing Points Reports

At the end of each (6) testing points, we will email you the data for each test.

Explanation of Results

Our staff microbiologist will provide an explanation of your shelf life testing results, making your lab report easy to understand.

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to your questions on Shelf Life Testing

What is shelf life?

Shelf life is the amount of time for which a food or beverage is considered suitable for sale or consumption. The shelf life of a food product begins at the time it is manufactured or prepared and ends at the time it becomes unsuitable for sale or consumption.


What factors can influence a shelf life?

Your product’s ingredients (recipe), how it’s processed, type of packaging, and storage temperatures – either refrigerated or shelf stable (room temperature) – can all influence the shelf life of a food or beverage product.

Is food safety the only concern with shelf life?

No. Some products may be safe eat for a long time, such as beef jerky or dried foods; however, you need to consider the food’s aesthetics (also known as organoleptic properties) as well:

  • Appearance
  • Aroma
  • Taste

These properties are all affected with time, and any major change in these properties will certainly affect the quality of the eating experience and therefore will affect the shelf life of the product.

What are some examples of the shelf life of different products?

Here are a few shelf life duration guidelines that we have collected over the years, which may give you some idea of how long to your product will need to be tested for.

  • Beef Jerky: 9 months-1 year
  • BBQ Sauces: 4 months-6 months
  • Pasteurized Dairy Products: 3 weeks
  • Raw Juices: 5 days
  • Cakes, Cookies & Other Bakery Goods WITH Preservatives: 30 days
  • Salsa: 3 months-4 months


How long should I test my product for?

As a guideline to determine the length of shelf life testing your product may require, we recommend using the shelf life of a similar product as a reference to estimate your own product’s shelf life. For this estimate, use a similar product that is currently on the market and that has ingredients similar to the those in your product.

Other factors to consider when determining shelf life estimates are whether or not your product has preservatives or if it is heat-processed to preserve freshness. Lastly, the differences between making the product in a commercial kitchen versus a home-based kitchen can greatly impact the duration of your product’s shelf life.

Is laboratory testing necessary to determine my product’s shelf life?

Lab testing is the only method to determine an accurate shelf life for a food product.
Lab testing can be expensive and time consuming; however, there is no way around it. If a food manufacturer, big or small, needs to determine an accurate best-by date for their product, then testing in a lab must be done.

How can I extend my product’s shelf life?

We offer Recipe Modification consulting and can recommend ways to extend your product’s shelf life. For example, foods that are more acidic or that have lower water content tend to have a long shelf life; therefore, adjusting these measures can increase your product’s shelf life. Additionally, many of our clients add natural preservatives (such as ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) or citric acid) or artificial preservatives (such as stabilizers like carrageenan or xanthan gum). We can recommend the amount and type of preservatives that will best fit your product. Any expected increase in shelf life needs to be validated by submitting your product for shelf life testing.

Do you do accelerated shelf life testing?

Yes, we do accelerated shelf life testing.

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