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September Cartoon: How to use FIFO to reduce food waste
FIFO Food Containers in the Fridge

My favorite meal sat in a clear Tupperware container with a blue lid in the back of the fridge. My mouth salivated as I reached for it, anticipating the creamy lemon pasta. Little did I know, someone else had been eyeing my lunch. I opened the lid and inside was a blanket of green and white fuzz. It smelled like wet, old cardboard that had been sitting in a basement for years. I gagged, held my nose, and immediately put the entire container in the trash.

Has this ever happened to you? A container sits in your fridge for days, weeks, possibly months, and you have forgotten what was even in it?

You are not alone! According to a recent study, an average American will throw away four spoiled food items from their fridge every week. That is a lot of spoiled food and it adds up! On average, an American will lose $2,798 a year on spoiled food.

About FIFO

There is a method for reducing food waste called FIFO, and no, it’s not a name for a pet. It stands for “first in, first out" and it is a method to organize the food in your fridge. When you purchase a new container of food, like yogurt, place it behind the other containers you have in your fridge. That way when you reach for a container, the oldest ones are in front and easy to grab. Then slide all of them up, so the oldest is always first.

This is one of the easiest ways to avoid food waste because if you place the food in the right order, you don’t have to think or guess when you go to reach the next container.

Personally, I also use this method for the meat I freeze in my freezer. I buy fresh chicken breasts and freeze them at home. By placing the newest chicken behind the others, I know I will use the oldest one first.

How to date mark food

Another great method to avoid food waste is date marking. For my chicken, I write the date that I purchased the meat on the individual bags. That way, if they ever get out of order, I still know how old each one is. You can use date marking on anything! Leftovers, produce, yogurt, cheese, or anything else you store in your fridge.

Specifically for leftovers, a good standard is the food will be safe to eat for up to 7 days from preparation. Keep that in mind if you are date marking leftovers. In food retail settings, they will mark the date it needs to be thrown out, not the date it was made.

A quick sidenote about “Best by" dates. Expiration dates or “best by" dates can be helpful in organizing your food and avoiding food waste. However, usually these dates are a better indication of quality, not safety. If you’re curious, though, this article talks about expiration dates in more detail.

Using FIFO and date marking together

Date marking and FIFO are some of the most impactful methods to cut down on food waste. They both work together and are easy to use at the same time.

Most Americans say the reason their food goes bad is because their fridge is cluttered, or they just forget the food was there. I find that when I use FIFO, it also encourages me to organize my fridge when I’m putting new items in it.

There are even other ways to avoid food waste as well! By adding multiple ideas and methods, you can cut down on even more food waste in your home.

I hate throwing food away that was perfectly good except that I forgot about it in my fridge. By using FIFO, date marking, and routinely looking through my fridge, it helps me avoid food waste. These systems require a little bit of effort to get them started, but then require little maintenance. You can set yourself up for success to use all the food in your fridge and avoid throwing out containers that look like science experiments.

— Kylie Molen

Download/print cartoon: FIFO Food Containers in the Fridge

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