Last week, I filmed a “what I eat in a week” style video for my YouTube channel (it’ll be out next week—head on over there and subscribe and hit the bell icon if you’d like to be notified when it’s released!). The process of documenting every single meal, snack, and beverage I ingested for a full week naturally made me think more deeply about how I feed myself and my family. In doing that deeper thinking, I realized that there’s a food- waste prevention system I’ve implemented so effectively in my own kitchen that it’s become second nature.
“Okay, Erica, I’m adequately intrigued, no need for further build up, please keep the preamble short,” you say? Aye aye! Let’s get right into it:
The system is called FIFO, or “First In First Out” and it works exactly the way it sounds…
The first thing you put in your fridge (e.g. the oldest/most perishable item in the fridge) should be the first thing you take out to use. I learned about FIFO at my culinary externship working under an executive chef who’s notorious among her peers for running a very tight ship, especially when it comes to inventory management. Restaurants have razor thin budgetary margins, so food waste of any kind is pretty much unacceptable; wasted food=wasted money.
One of my main responsibilities during my externship was receiving and unpacking huge food deliveries into the walk-in refrigerator. Here’s how FIFO worked in that scenario: the milk shipment would arrive, I’d heave it into the walk fridge, then start pulling all the milk that arrived yesterday off the shelves. I’d place the new milk I’d just received at the back of the shelf, then replace the milk from yesterday in front of it. This way, the next time a chef needed milk, the first carton she’d grab would technically be the oldest because I’d put those cartons at the front of the shelf. The first carton of milk into the fridge would also be the first one out (FIFO), and the system would repeat itself day after day, preventing any potential milk spoilage.
Obviously, FIFO works different in a restaurant than in a home kitchen, just due to sheer volume of inventory (I highly doubt you’re buying 20 cartons of milk at a time) so…
Here’s how to implement FIFO in your own kitchen:
Clean your fridge. Get rid of anything that’s no longer good to eat. You can use expiration dates as a guide, but also trust your senses.
Make note of anything that’s close to its expiration date or needs to be eaten soon (I’m looking at you, close-to-wilting bunch of herbs, sad jar of mayo, and kinda shriveled bag of limes!!).
Here’s the kicker: MOVE those items that are on their last legs and need to be used soon directly into your eyesight in the fridge. I mean front and center in the fridge. This may mean the almost sad parsley needs to come out of the crisper drawer and onto a shelf if you don’t look in the crisper drawer on a regular basis. That’s okay! The parsley will survive until you use it (in the very near future!)
This works for leftovers too! I generally always keep leftovers in direct eyesight in the fridge to make sure I eat them in a timely manner, or find a way to remix and eat them within 3-4 days of cooking the dish.
Figure out how to use the ingredient(s) within the next day-or-two. For this, I recommend googling “how to use xxxx” or “recipe for xxxx” OR my DMs over on Instagram are always open and I’m happy to weigh in!
Use the ingredient. Cooking an ingredient gives it at least 2-3 extra days in the fridge!
Alternatively, if the item is freezer-friendly, shift it to your freezer until you have an immediate use for it. Add it to your freezer inventory list.
Do a FIFO check every day-or-two. Give your fridge a once over and shift anything that needs to be used to the front. After the initial fridge clean out, it should take you less than a minute to do. And once it’s a habit…well..it’s a habit! No more wasted food.
When you’ve got FIFO down pat, you’ll be really surprised by how flexible a lot of the things in your fridge are and how quickly this system becomes second nature. Wilting bag of spinach? You can probably work that into tomorrow morning’s eggs. Mayo that’s about to go off? Make cheater aioli and serve that with potatoes for dinner. Or maybe you’ve got some ground meat that needs to be used ASAP—that’s actually perfect fodder for the freezer, or make veggie forward taco meat and eat it over the next few days.
Back when FIFO wasn’t a major part of my kitchen routine, food waste mainly happened because I wasn’t keeping a very close eye on my fridge—that bag of spinach turned into a mushy, unusable bag of spinach before I even knew it was wilting. And while I’m still not perfect (I think there’s some feta hanging in my fridge that might need to be tossed :( today) FIFO has made fridge and food-waste management so much easier! I highly, highly recommend!
Okay, that’s it from me this week. As always, keep me posted about what’s going on in your kitchen. Do you already use some version of FIFO? Or is there some other way you keep track of kitchen inventory? Maybe there’s any ingredient that needs to be used up that has you stumped? I’m all ears! You can reply directly to this email, drop a comment, or shoot me a DM over on Instagram.
With love and a *tip* of my chef’s hat,