Industry guidance on setting product shelf life


Reducing food waste, without any compromise to the safety of food, is a commitment we at the Food Standards Agency share with the FDF. I welcome the publication of this sensible guidance on setting product shelf life, and explaining what factors affect the expiry date of a food product. This is another welcome step towards preventing safe food from going to waste.
Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency

In this Guide


Application of minimum durability

Factors affecting shelf-life

Validating the shelf-life proposed for a food

Do's and don'ts

Glossary of terms

Additional sources of information


Food waste is an issue that all parts of society can unite in reducing. The food and drink industry has a pivotal role in ensuring that consumers understand the date marks on food and drink products and use them in support of food safety as well as waste reduction. It is the responsibility of Food Business Operators (FBOs) to set shelf lives such that food safety is assured whilst at the same time ensuring that no safe and high quality food is discarded due to inappropriate date marking. Working with organisations such as WRAP, it is our shared ambition to deliver environmental benefits within a commercial context, bringing long term mutual outcomes for all parties.

However, the shelf life of a food must be assessed carefully and with the full knowledge of the risks involved, to avoid putting the consumer and ultimately the Food Business Operator (FBO) at risk. Setting shelf-life typically involves a number of steps as outlined below. This often includes shelf-life studies which aid in determining the length of time the product will meet certain standards in relation to parameters such as microbiology, taste, appearance, vitamin levels and smell.

To note the EU regulations referenced in this document may be subject to change after the UK exits the EU.


The guidance is designed to help FBOs engaged in the production or sale of any category of food and ingredients to assign the most appropriate expiry date for their product.

It must however be noted that this guidance does not replace the need for technical expertise which should be sought if it is not available within a food business.

Next page: Application of minimum durability

Last reviewed: 18 May 2020