Section 1: Purchasing

Reducing spoilage starts with the purchasing process. By purchasing fresh items in the appropriate amounts from approved sources, you can limit the amount of spoilage.

• Always purchase from licensed and approved vendors.

• Create purchase specifications that list what you expect from a product. For example, your specifications for lettuce might state that it be a healthy green color with no loose leaves and no brown leaves. Such specifications can help guarantee that you receive fresh items. You can also specify the type of ripeness desired of certain produce. For example, tomatoes are typically available in six stages of ripeness. Select an appropriate degree of ripeness to avoid spoilage. If you don’t plan to use all your tomatoes at once, you might want to specify that a certain amount be riper than others, so they don’t all peak simultaneously.

• Select a restaurant-oriented purveyor. To ensure that you’ll receive the freshest items, ask plenty of questions and examine the quality of the food as well as the cleanliness of the plant and the delivery truck.

• Order the appropriate amount of an item. Closely track your inventory and your sales so that you order only what you need. Overordering can lead to food spoilage.

Section 2: Receiving

Once you’ve ordered the right products, your next step is to ensure that they arrive at your operation in peak condition.

• Check each product for temperature, quality and freshness as it arrives. Use all your senses to check for freshness-look, smell, feel and even taste the product. Make sure the item meets your purchase specifications. Randomly examine the entire contents of a box rather than just the items on the top.

• As part of your receiving practices, check that refrigerated items arrive at proper temperatures, usually 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

• If a product does not meet your standards of freshness, refuse to accept it.

Section 3: Storage

Proper storage methods can lengthen a product’s shelf life. They can also prompt you to use the items received first before using new arrivals. Rotating your stock in this fashion helps reduce spoilage.

• Immediately unpack and store items. Repackage items in uniform, see-through plastic containers that seal tightly to extend the product’s life.

• Mark each item with the date it was received. You can use magic markers, grease pencils, different color stamps or a date stamp-whatever works best for your operation.

• Use the First In First Out (FIFO) storage method. Using this method, new items are shelved behind the stock you already have. Once items have been properly shelved, use items stored in the front first. This ensures that you use the lettuce that arrived on Monday before the lettuce you received on Wednesday.

• Be sure to store products in the proper places. Items such as rice and pasta should be kept in cool, dry places. Frozen food should be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, not 32 degrees. Refrigerated items should be stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Potentially hazardous items-such as meat, egg and cheese products-can be kept safely refrigerated for up to seven days, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Freeze items such as meats if you might not be able to use them within seven days.

• Check and record refrigerator temperatures at least twice a day.

• Refrigeration units do not cool by cold temperatures alone. When placing foods in a refrigerator, allow sufficient space between packages for air circulation and keep items away from the inside walls. Do not store foods directly on the floor of a walk-in cooler.

Section 4: Usage Procedures

Reducing spoilage takes constant vigilance. Build the following practices into your daily food-usage procedures.

• Make sure employees always check the use-by or expiration date on products. Discard products if the use-by or expiration date has passed.

• Inventory most foods on a daily basis so that you’ll know how much shelf life they have left.

• If you realize that you have an excess amount of a particular item, develop a daily special that uses the product before it spoils.

• Check that cold foods are held at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below and hot foods are maintained at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The FDA Food Code allows for potentially hazardous foods-including, but not limited to meat, egg and cheese products-to be between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for no longer than a total of four hours. After four hours, the product must be discarded.

• To deter bacteria growth, pre-cool hot items before storing them in a refrigerator by using chill blasters, cooling wands and ice baths. If hot food must be cooled in the refrigerator, divide the food into small batches to quicken the cooling process.

• Despite your best efforts, some items will start to go bad. If you’re trying to determine whether something is usable, remember the classic adage-when in doubt, throw it out.

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation offers products and courses to help train employees in safe food-storage and -handling procedures. For information on the Foundation’s ServSafe® and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) materials, call the Educational Foundation at (800) 765-2122, extension 701, or log onto www.nraef.org.