Food items taken from their original packaging or food prepared on-site from raw materials may also pose a food safety risk if it is kept beyond its shelf-life. Date coding is used to maintain a control on the shelf-life of food items in a catering establishment. It is also used for stock rotation purposes and to minimise food waste. Preparing foods in bulk can save time during service period so that food preparation is minimised and so that food does not have to be prepared from scratch every time. Wherever possible portioning can help speed up service activities and freezing can help prevent wastage (remember to cool quickly and keep food out of the danger zone).
Different staff members often become confused about the shelf-life of products stored (particularly in refrigerators) if consistency in the date-coding scheme is not maintained. Dates must therefore be applied according to the following rules.
Day-dots or ‘weekday’ style stickers can be applied according to the day of expiry. In other words, if a food is cooked on a Monday it will be labelled with a Wednesday sticker. It can then be used until the end of Wednesday but not on the Thursday. On Thursday staff must ensure that items containing a Wednesday sticker are removed before any food preparation commences.
Some date labels (like the ones featured above) come off quite easily when containers need to be washed. There are also date labelling guns that can be used to quickly and easily apply labels to the side or top of food containers or packaging.