Everyone seems to be seeking that nebulous goal of extending shelf life-even for foods and beverages that enjoy quick turns or have limited distribution. The cost/benefit balances out when you’re able to deliver the freshest, tastiest product to consumers and they have such a positive experience that they immediately become a loyal and repeat customer.

Assuming your barrier packaging costs are in line, what could possibly be wrong with that? Well, the Center for Science in the Public Interest sees possible danger in the long shelf life of a product. I see a point, too, but not necessarily the one they make.

In a statement, Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s food safety director, says of the recent salmonella outbreak in peanut products, “Given the long shelf life of these peanut products, this outbreak may sicken and kill many more if the Food and Drug Administration does not act to effectively remove contaminated products from stores and facilities that may have them. Yet, without mandates for recall and few inspectors, the agency’s ability to protect the public is minimal.”

On p.14, our Regulatory Analysis columnist George Misko says that the new Obama administration might propose legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority for mandatory recalls. That might help, but George reminds me that “it is the very rare case that a company refuses to cooperate with the FDA on a recall when a serious situation is afoot.”

So, sure, regulations may change how recalls are done in the future. That’s one of the points that Smith DeWaal proposes in her statement.

Here’s my point:

Once initial warnings of a contamination die down in the media, most people forget about the risk. But what if an older package of peanut butter crackers gets covered up in the pantry and doesn’t get eaten until weeks or months later?

Packaging researchers and developers should work harder to advance affordable anti-microbial solutions and active or intelligent packaging that can show or tell consumers when a product is contaminated and unsafe to eat.

Then food companies should use these products to help prevent costly recalls-mandatory or not.