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What You Need to Know About Shelf Life Testing

March 10, 2021

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 procss – 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. For more details, visit

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!


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