A continuous review perishable inventory system operating under the (s,S) policy is considered. Assuming a random shelf life with a general distribution, renewal arrivals and a negligible replenishment lead time, exact expressions for the expected cost rate function for unit and batch demands are derived. For unit demands, it is shown that the average cost rate function is quasi-convex in (s,S). Numerical findings indicate that the loss incurred by ignoring the randomness of the shelf life can be drastic. It is observed that the shape of the shelf life distribution has a significant impact on the costs and a precise estimation of shelf life distribution may result in substantial savings. Based on the presented analytical results, a new heuristic for positive lead times is proposed. Extensive numerical studies show that the proposed heuristic performs better than an existing one suggested for fixed shelf lives in most of the cases studied.