The Recipe to Shelf-Life Management Success

Leverage our deep expertise in shelf-life management gained from thousands of audits with food retail brands. Discover our expert checklist; your recipe to success.

Effective shelf-life management for people and planet

Worldwide it’s estimated that 600 million people, almost 1 in 10, become ill as a result of eating contaminated food each year, resulting in 420 000 deaths1.

Food safety is a global priority and a global challenge. As such, regional, national and global food regulations set requirements for food safety, including measures to mitigate the risk of foodborne pathogens, which can cause illness and disease.

Organisations operating in the food industry manage their compliance to relevant standards and protocols via a food safety management programme, such as the globally recognized HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system and guidelines.

Shelf-life management is a core aspect of a food company’s safety programme. Failure to meet the specific requirements relating to shelf-life management can be serious, and may result in prosecution, fines and long-term reputational damage.

Furthermore, poor shelf-life management can result in increased waste, due to overstocking, inadequate cooling, poor hygiene and other factors. As a consequence, shelf life management failures can also have a negative impact on a food retailer’s sustainability and waste reduction outcomes.

According to Statista, the global food retail sector produces 118 million tonnes of food waste every year2. Independent research group, Shrink That Footprint, says that supermarkets in the United States throw away approximately 43 billion pounds of food annually3.

So, how can food retailers mitigate the health and financial risks caused by poor shelf-life management, safeguard their reputation and meet their waste reduction goals?

The global food retail sector produces 118 million tonnes of food waste every year4.

Avoid shelf-life management pitfalls

Every year, NSF audits thousands of food retail brands worldwide. We see first-hand the pitfalls that can lead to retailers failing to meet shelf-life management requirements.

Armed with rich data from our deep expertise in this area, our audit specialists have developed a checklist of the most critical food retailing risks, which you may find useful as a refresher for your established team members, or as an introduction for new starters.

  • Risk One: Overstocking

    A common risk among food retailers is to hold too much inventory of perishable products, resulting in high rates of spoilage when it is left unsold. Understanding product variation is vital, as different food types can be kept for varying amounts of time.
  • Risk Two: First-in, first-out (FIFO) failures

    The risk of overstocking is exacerbated by failure to operate an efficient ‘first in, first out’ (FIFO) system, whereby food products are rotated on the shelves so that older items are sold before new ones are displayed. Chilled product display in open units – of fresh fish on ice beds, for example – needs particularly careful FIFO management.
  • Risk Three: Incorrect transport, storage and display

    Incorrect placement of products within vehicles, storerooms, refrigerators, and display units can result in them being kept in sub-optimal conditions – too hot, too cold, too damp, etc. – radically shortening the shelf-life of perishable goods. This includes mistakes in handling, storing, and transporting products by suppliers, such as failing to maintain the cold chain.
  • Risk Four: Inadequate cooling

    Bacteria that can cause food poisoning multiply in warm conditions, so failures in refrigeration and temperature control lead to a higher risk of food degradation – and shorter product shelf-life.
  • Risk Five: Data gaps

    Poor gathering and monitoring of information about food quality and conditions can cause delayed detection of issues and a higher likelihood of product degradation. Common reasons for data gaps include outdated/insufficient equipment and inadequate staff training.
  • Risk Six: Poor hygiene

    The importance of cooling in managing product shelf-life is magnified by poor hygiene practices. This is because pests and bacteria can spread easily and rapidly degrade food products in the absence of adequate workplace cleaning, personal hygiene, and protective clothing and equipment in food handling environments.

Optimise your shelf-life management operations

So, what’s the recipe to shelf-life management success? We believe it can be broken down into three categories; people, process and technology.


Effective risk management in the grocery industry starts at the top, with senior management commitment to sound corporate governance, legal compliance and risk management. This includes setting the right policies, and procedures for shelf-life management.


Successful shelf-life management includes measures and plans that address potential risks promptly. This should include checks on suppliers and contingency plans for power outages and other instances when things go wrong.


Critical to the success of your food safety management programme is ensuring the equipment you use in your food operations does not pose potential food hygiene risks. To be sure your equipment is reliable, check it has been certified by NSF.

Leverage our expertise for your shelf-life management success

NSF is a leading authority in food safety compliance, and we understand the complexities of achieving consistency in food safety management. Leveraging decades of auditing and compliance experience, we specialise in providing independent and robust second party food safety audits for grocery stores, supermarkets and convenience stores.

As your trusted advisor, we come armed with deep industry expertise, ready to meet your needs with highly-calibrated, qualified food safety auditors, and knowledgeable, responsive and customer-focused account managers.

Our audits are intended not only to detect any potential issues, but also to provide actionable insights and recommendations. With our rich data gained from conducting thousands of audits each year with leading food retail brands, we can demonstrate food safety pitfalls and risk areas, and work with you to address them.

Where specific risks are identified, we can offer tailored coaching sessions to provide targeted action plans as part of your improvement programme.

Contributor to this article

Michelle Hardy-King, Director, Food Retail Solutions, EMEA

Download PDF to learn more

If you have colleagues who would like a refresher on shelf-life management fundamentals, download our PDF here.

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1 World Health Organization. Food safety in South-East Asia.

2 Statista. The Enormous Scale Of Global Food Waste.

3 Shrink That Footprint. Introduction – Supermarket Food Waste.

4 Statista. The Enormous Scale Of Global Food Waste.

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