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Consumer group Choice has released a new report looking at the ways supermarkets and green grocers are extending the shelf life of meat, fruit and vegetables. It has found some lamb cuts can be stored up to 112 days before they are sold and beef mince for up to 44 days. Apples can be stored for many months. Experts say there is no negative effect from keeping food that long, but Choice is wondering if you can still label it fresh.
To satisfy the guidelines drawn up by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), retailers may only use the term fresh if they are referring to food put on sale as early as possible after it is picked, caught or produced. Choice spokeswoman Ingrid Just says that definition is often applied very loosely
"The term fresh is being used almost as a default these days against the manufactured produce and products that we're seeing in our supermarkets which, let's face it, make up the majority of the space when you walk through the door," she said.
Ms Just says new techniques extend the shelf life of many products. "We've got vacuum-packed meat using carbon dioxide and nitrogen to inhibit the growth of micro organisms which allows lamb cutlets to be stored for up to 112 days and using similar methods of packaging chilled beef mince to be stored for up to 44 days. "If the vacuum packaging is not sealed properly, if there are some piercings in that packing or perhaps the vacuum packs start to become loose, that's when you can face some difficulties with regards to the bacteria getting into that vacuum pack. "Apples are another key fruit that is stored for a period of time using a substance called 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) to extend shelf life."
Ms Just argues the nutritional value of fruit and vegetables diminishes with time. "English spinach refrigerated for just eight days loses more than 50 per cent of its key nutrients," she said. But John Bowman, an Associate Professor at the University of Tasmania's Food Safety Centre, says research conducted for apple growers found there could be an increase in antioxidants during the storage process. "An apple that's been stored for three months has more nutritional value than having no apple at all," he said.