Reduced Oxygen Packaging (ROP)
Reduced oxygen packaging (ROP) is intended to extend the shelf life of food products by preventing the growth of most spoilage organisms. To do this, a package reduces oxygen content to a level below what is normally found in the atmosphere. These benefits don’t come without risk, which is why a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan is required. When oxygen is removed from a package this creates an anaerobic environment which can support the growth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium bolulinum and Listeria monocytogenes.
C. bolulinum toxins can cause severe damage and even lead to death. There is no way to destroy the toxins if they form in food. Listeria monocytogenes may lead to listeriosis, which can be a serious disease for immune compromised individuals and pregnant women, leading to death or still births. Due to the risks associated with ROP, a HACCP plan is required to mitigate harmful bacteria growth or toxin formation.
Examples of reduced oxygen packaging include vacuum packaging, cook-chill, and sous vide.
Controls or Barriers for ROP
Vacuum packaged or ROP foods should be kept frozen or refrigerated at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. In addition to refrigeration, which slows the growth of bacteria, the food must have one of the following:
- A pH of 4.6 or less or water activity (Aw) of 0.91 or less,
- Be a meat or poultry product that is cured at a food processing plant regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Minnesota State Equal To, or have the necessary controls outlined within the HACCP Plan.
- Be a raw product, with a high level of competing organisms such as raw meat, poultry, or raw vegetables.
ROP foods have a limited shelf life when produced in a retail establishment to no more than 30 calendar days from packaging to consumption when held under refrigeration. This is because refrigeration only slows the growth of L. monocytogenes. Freezing stops the clock and allows products to be kept for longer than 30 days.
Limitations on What can be Reduce Oxygen Packaged
Not all foods can be reduced oxygen packaged. Some foods may have additional limitations for safety due to other hazards. For instance, fish products are not allowed to use an ROP method unless they are frozen before, during and after packaging. Similarly, not all cheeses are allowed to be packaged with a reduced oxygen packaging method depending on its type and where it was processed. Reach out to your area inspector or the HACCP team at MDA.HACCP.Variance@state.mn.us or 651-201-6194 for questions and assistance creating a HACCP plan for ROP.
What to Include on the Label
The following information is required for proper labeling:
- Name of the product,
- Name and address of the manufacturer
- Complete list of ingredients
- Net weight
- Instructions to keep the product refrigerated or frozen
- Discard the food within 30 calendar days with a 'freeze by' or 'use by' date
This critical information is shared on the labels to ensure customers are properly handling the food when taken home.