“Shelf–life plus”: enhanced shelf–life evaluation using microbial profiling
All foods in the retail sector need to have a date of durability to mark the end of their shelf–life – the point at which levels of microorganisms, or biochemical and sensory markers meet predetermined targets. For microbiological shelf–life, these targets are limited to a few select species or groups of microorganisms that are listed in microbiological criteria and are organisms for which there are established agar based methods. However, other, less easy to detect but potentially important microbial groups which may have a large impact on the consumer acceptability characteristics of a food will never be observed.
Microbiological shelf–life of products is currently determined by culture methods which introduce bias through culture medium selectivity and the organisms that can be targeted. Modern molecular methods (e.g. gene sequencing) could provide a more holistic approach to profiling microbial populations, and so more meaningful shelf–life determinations.