Il panel Scientific Committee on Biological Hazards has published guidelines on the indication on the label of the term of durability of foods, on 2.12.20. Offering new insights into the possibility of applying the minimum shelf life (TMC), as an alternative to the expiration date, on some products subject to the cold chain. (1) An in-depth study.
EFSA guidelines, objectives
Target of the EFSA guidelines - in line with the Brussels mandate - is to contribute to the reduction of food waste, without compromising food safety. 10% of the 88 million tons / year of food waste in the EU it is in fact attributed when the expiry date is exceeded (European Commission, 2018). It is therefore appropriate to share the risk assessment criteria that govern the determination of the durability term (date marking) and correct information to the consumer.
'Clear and correct information on packaging and a better understanding and use of date marking on food by all actors can help reduce food waste in the EU, while continuing to ensure food safety. This scientific opinion represents a step forward in this direction.'(Kostas Koutsoumanis, chairman of the EFSA panel on Biological Hazards, 2.12.20)
Expiry date and TMC on the label
The EFSA guidelines on 'date marking'have the aim of clarifying when an expiry date should be applied - on the label or in commercial documents ('to be consumed within... ','use-by... '). And when it is possible to refer to a minimum conservation term ('to be consumed preferably by... ','best before... ').
The document offers an extensive review of pathogens - in addition to the process, packaging, sanitation and storage conditions - to be considered in identifying hazards andmicrobiological risk analysis associated with the consumption of the food product over time. Analysis which, it is emphasized, must be subjected to periodic reviews.
Identification of the dangers must consider the pathogenic microorganisms that can survive and proliferate, in relation to three groups of factors:
- intrinsic (pH and aW, linked through the redox potential characteristic of each food as a 'culture medium', and other variables),
- extrinsic (external temperature, external relative humidity, ..),
- implied. That is to say, the overall microbial ecology (not only the pathogens but also, if not above all, the degradative bacteria) which determines the evolution of a picture where the antagonists of the pathogens can limit or succumb to them.
Risk analysis in turn, it must integrate predictive models and laboratory analyzes (challenge test), also taking into account the scientific literature subject to peer-review. The food business operator (FBO) - in the microbiological risk analysis that presides over the definition, under his own responsibility, of the durability term of a food - must evaluate thereasonably foreseeable conditions'for its distribution, storage and use after the sale. And therefore:
- identify the pathogenic (or altering) microorganisms of relevance and their initial levels,
- characterize the factors that influence their growth and behavior,
- evaluate the growth and behavior of the said microorganisms during the shelf-life of the product.
The decision tree proposed by EFSA in Figure 1 is used to distinguish the hypotheses in which a food can be considered as'not rapidly perishable from a microbiological point of view', albeit subject to temperature-controlled storage (cold chain).
A revolution Copernican, from which the possibility of legitimately affixing the TMC on the labels of a series of products (eg butter, aged cheeses).
Safety, quality and legal compliance
Il date marking in any case, it must consider not only the safety, but also the organoleptic qualities of the food. The EFSA guidelines therefore indicate how the earliest date among the one affecting the food safety, from a microbiological point of view, and that which instead relates to quality from a sensorial point of view.
La shelf-life moreover, as we have seen, it also notes under other aspects of legal compliance of food products. (2) With particular regard to phenomena that are independent from the degradation of foods, such as weight loss, which can lead to serious liability of the seller in the event of discrepancies with respect to the indications offered on the label.
The trade associations they will have to update their manuals of good sanitation practices, already notified to the European Commission pursuant to the Hygiene Package (EC reg. 852, 853/04 and subsequent). For the express purpose of simplifying the risk analysis burdens borne by micro-enterprises. (3)
The European Authority for Food Safety will publish the second part of the EFSA guidelines under review in 2021. With regard to storage conditions, food consumption times after opening the packages, the correct defrosting methods.
The European Commission, on the basis of the EFSA guidelines, it will be able to evaluate possible reforms aimed at simplifying the date marking on food and promote a better understanding of it by operators, regulatory authorities and consumers. With the ultimate goal of reduce food waste (SDG 12.3). (4)
A knot to be solved is the absolute presumption of risk of food starting from the day following the expiry date indicated on the label. A praesumptio iuris et de iure unexpectedly introduced in reg. UE 1169/11, in contrast - like the writer has already deduced - with the risk analysis criterion and often also with common sense (one example above all, yogurt). (5)
The European executive it must then demand the repeal of national regulations which illegitimately define the 'expiry by law' of some products. Like in case of fresh milk in Italy, which the writer denounced in vain to Brussels and the European Ombudsman.
(1) EFSA panel on biological hazard. Guidance on date marking and related food information: part 1 (date marking).
EFSA Journal 2020; 18 (12): 6306.
doi: 10.2903 / j.efsa.2020.6306. https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2020.6306
(2) Dario Dongo. Shelf-life, food safety and weight loss. An integrated approach. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.8.20, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/innovazione/shelf-life-sicurezza-alimentare-e-calo-peso-un-approccio-integrato
(3) Communication 2016 / C 278/01 on the implementation of food safety management systems relating to prerequisite programs (PRPs) and procedures based on HACCP principles, including facilitation / flexibility in implementation in certain food businesses. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:52016XC0730(01)&from=IT
(4) For this purpose, a specific one was set up in April 2018 sub-group, in EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste. V. https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/fw_eu-actions_subgroup-mandate_date-marking.pdf, https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/date_marking_en
(5) EU Reg. 1169/11, article 24.1