Does Conventional Food Have a Longer Shelf Life Than Organic?


Food scientist Dr. Karin Allen’s response to the shelf life question:


“The same storage recommendations apply for organic produce as for conventional. The difference in produce type is the important factor (e.g. apples vs. asparagus).


“For processed foods, I recommend going by the “use-by” date. There are processed foods that are made with organic ingredients that contain preservatives, so they have a longer shelf life. (These cannot be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘100% organic’, but they may be labeled ‘Made with Organic Potatoes,’ etc.). There are processed foods made with conventional ingredients that do not contain preservatives, so they have a shorter shelf life. Many ‘all natural’ products fall into this category.”


A consumer correspondent’s small research project:


Janice Lieberman, a consumer correspondent for MSNBC, did a bit of research to see if organic foods are really fresher and found, on the products she had lab-tested, that the shelf life was shorter. Here are some of the results:


Lettuce and broccoli: The organic products had much higher levels of bacteria (not the kinds of pathogens that cause illness but the kinds that cause food to spoil). If the products she had tested are typical, then organic produce (especially from stores) doesn’t last as long.


Chicken: After raw chicken was kept (refrigerated) for a week, the conventional chicken didn’t smell good, but the odor of the organic chicken was “almost unbearable.” Lieberman wondered why organic products almost always had a shorter shelf life. She was told that the distribution systems for organic products aren’t as well developed as for conventional agricultural products. It takes longer to get them to the store, so they don’t last as long as conventional products after the consumer takes them home. [Food scientist Dr. Joe Regenstein points out that animals with access to the outdoors are more likely to be exposed to certain diseases and have more problems with lice and bugs.]


For greater freshness, Lieberman recommends buying organic produce at a farmers’ market rather than a supermarket. She also advises those who buy organic produce at the supermarket to look carefully for brown spots indicating spoilage before purchasing and to use organic produce as soon as possible after purchase.


About organic milk:


If you buy organic milk, you’ve probably noticed that its shelf life (unopened) is much longer than for conventional milk. That’s because the organic milk is ultra-pasteurized, which means it was heated to a much higher temperature than ordinary milk. The Popular Science website says that the extra heating is expensive, and that’s why organic milk costs more. Also, the website says, it can give the milk “a cooked or scorched flavor” (something your Shelf Life Advice guru has never noticed). Remember, once that carton is opened, bacteria go to work on it as they would any other type of milk, so its shelf life is the same  as an opened carton of  conventional milk.


Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D. Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science “Organic foods: Are they worth the extra cost?” by Janice Lieberman “Why Does Organic Milk Have a Longer Shelf Life Than the Regular Kind?”


Related FAQs:

What Is Organic Food?


What Do the Various Organic Labels Mean? 


What Important Contributions Has the Organic Movement Made? 


Which Are Safer: Organic or Conventional Food Products?

Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Conventional Food?


Does Organic Food Taste Better than Conventional Food?


Is Food Organically Grown Food Better for the Environment?


Are Organic Methods More Humane to Animals?


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