First in, first out (FIFO) is a method used in foodservice to ensure food products are rotated according to their expiration or use-by dates.
This method reduces the risk that someone will get sick from consuming an expired product and decreases food waste.
This article explains everything food handlers need to know about the FIFO method for food storage and safety.
The FIFO method for food storage
The FIFO — or first in, first out — method is a system for storing and rotating food.
With this method, food that has been stored the longest (first in) should be the next food used (first out).
There are two primary reasons why using the FIFO method for food storage is important.
First, and most importantly, it helps reduce the risk of using or selling a product that is past its use-by or expiration date since foods closest to these dates will be the first ones you grab.
Expired packaged food isn’t usually a problem since the expiration or use-by dates are markers of quality rather than safety.
But, if you serve a cold pasta dish or other time-temperature controlled for safety (TCS) food past the use-by date, you could make people sick.
Remember, refrigeration doesn’t stop the growth of bacteria, it only slows it.
Secondly, using the FIFO method of food storage decreases food waste.
You can’t use food — whether prepared or packaged — past its expiration or use-by date.
With the FIFO method, you use products closest to their expiration or use-by dates first, reducing or eliminating the opportunity for products to go to waste.
For the FIFO system to work, all food — whether packaged or prepared — must have an expiration or use-by date.
FIFO organizes food based on when you received it, but you also need to ensure that the use-by or expiration dates match up.
Store the earliest expiration dates in the front or on top, and those with the latest expiration dates in the back.
Label prepared foods that won’t be served or sold within 24 hours with a use-by-date.
The date you prepared the item counts as the first day. So if you prepared an item on Monday, it should be sold, served, or thrown out on Sunday.
You should also store the same kinds of food together on the shelves to make finding foods and stocking them easier.
Following the FIFO — or first in, first out — method of food storage reduces the risk that someone will get sick from an expired product and helps decrease food waste.
Other safe food storing practices
Practicing the FIFO method of food storage is key, but don’t forget the other things you must do to store food safely.
Dry storage is where you store stocks of food that don’t require time-temperature controls for safety.
Products like cereals, flour, rice, dried pasta, and packaged foods all belong in dry storage.
Dry storage is also where you store single-service items like disposable utensils, containers, straws, napkins, toothpicks, plastic wrap, or wax paper.
Here are the best food safety practices for dry storage:
- Store food at least 6 inches from the floor to prevent contamination and allow cleaning.
- Depending on where you work, you may need to store food at least 16 inches from the ceiling to prevent sprinkler obstruction in the case of a fire.
- Label items that are not in their original containers like sugar and flour so they are not mistakenly used for a different ingredient.
- Maintain the area between 50ºF and 70ºF (10ºC and 21ºC).
- Never store sanitizers or other chemicals in dry storage.
- Keep the area clean to prevent dirt and other contaminants from building up and contaminating food or attracting pests.
TCS foods require storage in a fridge or freezer.
Here are safe food storing practices for cold storage:
- Store foods in the fridge based on their minimum internal cooking temperature in descending order.
- Maintain refrigerators at 41ºF (5ºC) or below, and freezers cold enough to keep foods frozen, ideally 0ºF (-18ºC) or below.
- Don’t overload the fridge and freezer or leave the doors open for extended periods as these actions can make the units work harder to maintain the proper temperatures.
- Allow the cold air to circulate — don’t line the shelving with sheet pans or aluminum foil.
- Don’t store any items on the floor.
- Keep the units clean inside and out.
Along with the FIFO method, don’t forget the other things you must practice to store food safely in dry and cold storage areas.
The bottom line
The FIFO — first in, first out — method of food storage ensures that food is rotated according to when it was received and its expiration dates.
Store foods in order of when you received them and their expiration or use-by dates, with those received first or closest to their expiration dates in the front or on top.
Along with FIFO, don’t forget the other safe storage practices you must follow to keep food safe.
Get Our Food Safety Newsletter
Be among the first to know when we release new courses and articles.