Enhancing sustainability and reducing food waste: A case study in validating open shelf life

12 May, 2023

Food waste poses a significant challenge to the food industry, resulting in substantial financial losses and adverse impacts on the environment. At Leatherhead Food Research, we have been working closely with companies in the food industry to address this challenge by extending the usability of their products and reducing food wastage. In this week's blog, we delve into a compelling case study showcasing how we empowered a valued member to substantially reduce their weekly food wastage by successfully extending the open shelf life of their products.


According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, food waste from households, retail establishments and the food service industry globally totals 931 million tonnes annually; further, estimates suggest that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.

Client request and challenge

In response to a pressing concern, our member sought Leatherhead's expertise in validating the open shelf life of a product range. Their supplier had assigned a nominal two-day open shelf life without any scientific substantiation. Consequently, discarding unfinished products after this period inflicted significant financial losses upon our member, amounting to several hundred thousand pounds each week.

Confident in the stability of their products, the member believed that the microbiological integrity could be maintained for a longer duration, particularly as the items were stored refrigerated before being reheated. Seeking a solution to this wastage predicament, the member turned to Leatherhead for assistance in validating and extending the open shelf life of their products.

Leatherhead’s role

To address the member's challenge, Leatherhead began by conducting an independent desk-based assessment of the member's product range. This initial analysis encompassed various factors such as processing methods, ingredients, physiochemical properties, and more. Leatherhead's aim was to identify the worst-case products within the range, which were most likely to have a shorter open shelf life.

During the assessment, Leatherhead also identified additional key microbiological tests that were missing from the original product specification. These tests were crucial in providing a comprehensive understanding of the products’ stability and safety. Incorporating these tests into the subsequent analysis allowed Leatherhead to gather more accurate data for their findings.

The identified worst-case products were then subjected to open shelf-life microbiological testing. These products were stored at the upper limit of the member's acceptable refrigeration temperatures, simulating the conditions in which they would be kept. Throughout the testing process, Leatherhead ensured that all samples were handled and sampled in line with the member's kitchen practices, replicating a real-world scenario within a controlled laboratory environment.

Outcome and findings

The collaborative efforts between Leatherhead and the member yielded promising results. The investigations conducted by Leatherhead indicated that the open shelf life of the tested products could be extended by 50%. Moreover, several products demonstrated microbiological stability at double the original open shelf life designated by the supplier.

This validation of extended open shelf life provided our member with several advantages. Firstly, they could significantly reduce their weekly food wastage, resulting in substantial cost savings. The confidence in the microbiological stability of their products also allowed the member to reduce material costs, enabling them to make fewer purchases from their supplier as the products could be kept for longer. Ultimately, this project empowered the member to make informed decisions based on scientific evidence, mitigating financial losses and contributing to a more sustainable business model and environment.

Empowering sustainability: validating open shelf life and beyond

This case study of Leatherhead Food Research's collaboration with a member highlights the importance of validating open shelf life. Through meticulous testing, analysis, and scientific expertise, our experts stand ready to assist businesses facing similar waste and sustainability challenges. Whether through open shelf-life studies, risk assessments, or packaging improvements, Leatherhead's expertise and scientific approach can help companies optimise their operations, reduce food waste, and create a more sustainable future.

To learn more about how we can support you, please get in touch at [email protected] 

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