Shelf-stable food (sometimes ambient food) is food of a type that can be safely stored at room temperature in a sealed container. This includes foods that would normally be stored refrigerated but which have been processed so that they can be safely stored at room or ambient temperature for a usefully long shelf life. For instance, the first shelf-stable formulation of ranch dressing, created in 1983, had a shelf life of 150 days.
Various food preservation and packaging techniques are used to extend a food's shelf life. Decreasing the amount of available water in a product, increasing its acidity, or irradiating or otherwise sterilizing the food and then sealing it in an air-tight container are all ways of depriving bacteria of suitable conditions in which to thrive. All of these approaches can all extend a food's shelf life without unacceptably changing its taste or texture.
For some foods alternative ingredients can be used. Common oils and fats become rancid relatively quickly if not refrigerated; replacing them with hydrogenated oils delays the onset of rancidity, increasing shelf life. This is a common approach in industrial food production, but recent concerns about health hazards associated with trans fats have led to their strict control in several jurisdictions. Even where trans fats are not prohibited, in many places there are new labeling laws (or rules), which require information to be printed on packages, or to be published elsewhere, about the amount of trans fat contained in certain products.
- Koerner, Brendan I. (August 5, 2005). "America's love-affair with ranch dressing". Slate Magazine. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- Harris, Gardiner (August 21, 2008). "Irradiation: A safe measure for safer iceberg lettuce and spinach". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- Leth, Torben (2012). "Denmark's trans fat law". tfX: The campaign against trans fat in foods. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
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