Keeping track of food expiry dates: Why FIFO might not be enough

Food expiry dates and perishability are challenging aspects of food and beverage management for both consumers and professional kitchens.

Whether you’re a student, a producer, vendor, or restaurant — sometimes products are simply forgotten in storage. Even techniques such as the “first in first out” method, also known as FIFO, do not reliably protect against this. In other cases, different designations lead to misunderstandings and confusion. As a result, whatever approaches the product expiry date (often even a few days before) ends up in the bin. In this article, we explain what the terms mean in the context of perishability. We also show how you can reliably keep an eye on the shelf life of your food in order to reduce food waste.  

Do you know the difference between perishability indications as “best before” and “use by”? And do you always pay attention to what is written on the package? As a professional cook or supply manager in a restaurant or hotel you should, because you are not allowed to sell food that is past its expiry date.

Not sure about the shelf life indications? Read our guide and find out about the differences and perishability of food. 

In addition, producing waste has a great impact on your food cost. Expiry dates are responsible for 10 percent of the 88 million tons of food lost or wasted across the value chain in Europe. That is equivalent to 3 to 6 billion euros every year. 

Why are “best by”, “use by” and product expiry dates not always reliable?

According to HACCP, those dates are attributed as a result of laboratory analysis by producers. They are done under optimal conditions and follow rigid protocols.  

But what about following commercial logistics and conservation? Failures in handling, transporting, and storing will affect the product’s quality by the best before date. Food can simply spoil quicker if the cold chain has been interrupted. This already happens when they stand outside of the warehouse for too long after delivery instead of being packed away properly. Willing to be safer to consumers, some producers prudentially reduce tested shelf lives.  

How do professional kitchens track what needs to go?

Traditional practices are limited to FIFO – “first in, first out”. The FIFO system simply means to store the products as they shall be used. The latest delivery goes to the back shelf in the warehouse; the initial stock goes to the front. This is a manual process that takes a lot of time and requires accuracy. Whenever a new delivery arrives – and this happens on a daily basis in many restaurants – every item in the whole stock needs to be moved.  

During our customer discovery phase at Storate, more than half of the interviewees admitted to being concerned about food perishability. Many of them stated that you can never know if staff is applying FIFO properly.  

What makes it even more difficult: FIFO must of course not only be practiced in the warehouse but throughout the entire facility, be it a hotel or a restaurant. This is a challenging task for F&B managers. Some examples include:

  • Often yogurts placed toward the corner of the breakfast vitrine remain stuck there and reach their expiry date rather quietly and secretly.  
  • Housekeepers do not check room minibars every day. But if they do so and report a few cans of coke zero expired, many others will be found in the main storage or in the bar because they come from the same delivery.

Reporting helps to reduce food waste and food costs

Many organizations that were required to record the food thrown away found that 15 to 20 percent of the food is being wasted. This applied even if the analysis was run for a short period of time or limited to specific moments such as breakfast. Other businesses require their F&B director or hotel manager to execute regular sample tests to ensure customer safety. 

Another aspect is stock control and food cost control. Sometimes chefs need slowly moving ingredients when it is already too late. As a consequence, they are adding discrepancies to budgeted food costs and/or bad customer experiences to wasting food. In reality, no one tracks quantities on a daily basis. Is it worth recording one kilo of salmon? One kilo? Maybe not. But adding kilo to kilo, one day after another is a different story.  

How a warehouse management system like Storate helps F&B managers to track their stock

The problem of food and beverage perishability is not new. Nevertheless, there have been too few solutions accompanying the first in first out method so far that are practical, fast, and affordable. 

Major technical supports are not following items uniquely and thus are not able to efficiently track expiry dates. Most of them are limited to inputting that data into the database, making that extra manual effort useless so that no operator does it.  

That is why we have developed Storate. Our warehouse management system specifically tracks each ingredient of your storage in relation to its expiry date and alerts you in advance before food waste in restaurants happens. 

The rising problem of wasting food imposes the need for better understanding and increased attention. Most of us are contributing to this heartbreaking phenomenon. Let’s solve this problem together. 

Get to know more about us. Read our Manifesto.

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