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chapter thirteen

Quality management during


storage and distribution
John Henry Wells and R. Paul Singh

Contents
Introduction
Criteria for evaluating food quality
Characteristics of perishable food quality
Shelf life of perishable foods
Predicting changes in food quality
Monitoring food quality with time–temperature indicators
Stock management concepts for perishable inventories
Inventory management strategies for perishable foods
Classic inventory depletion problem
Time-based criterion for perishable inventory management
First-in first-out rationale
Quality criterion for perishable inventory management
Quality-based interpretations of shelf life
Estimation of remaining shelf life
Shortest remaining shelf life inventory issue policy
SRSL issue policy and shelf life dating
Quality-based management of perishable inventories
Food storage and distribution systems
Use of time–temperature indicators to manage food quality
Distribution decision support systems for stockpile management
Conclusions
References

Introduction
All food products, regardless of preservation technique, will eventually deteriorate.
Moreover, the keeping quality of perishable foods, those that are preserved either by
freezing or by storing at refrigeration temperature, is particularly sensitive to the envi-
ronmental conditions in which they are stored. Fruits and vegetables that are marketed

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as fresh products, for example, require refrigerated conditions to limit the biological
functions of respiration (Wills et al., 1981). Meats, fish, and poultry products preserved
by freezing need controlled temperature conditions to avoid a proliferation of resident
microorganisms and to retard biochemical changes that result from enzymatic activity
(Desrosier and Tressler, 1977). Other primary factors contributing to quality mainte-
nance are initial product composition and quality, processing techniques, and the pack-
aging materials and processes (Fennema et al., 1973; Goodenough and Atkin, 1981). In-
package gas composition and addition of preservatives are additional environmental
factors that affect the keeping quality of perishable foods. No single factor, however,
has a more pronounced impact on the quality of stored perishables than does temper-
ature history. Consequently, maintenance of proper temperature throughout the entire
food distribution chain is essential in order to deliver the highest quality product
possible to the consumer.
Considerable research has been reported in the literature on the keeping quality and
shelf life of perishable foods. The books by Van Arsdel et al. (1969) and Jul (1984) review
the results of storage investigations on the keeping quality of frozen foods. These docu-
ment the influence of storage temperature on the length of time that frozen fruits, vege-
tables, and meats may be stored. A comprehensive review of the keeping quality of fresh
fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and other refrigerated foods is available in a book
by Labuza (1982). All these reviews emphasize that cumulative storage time and temper-
ature (i.e., the temperature history) is the single most important factor affecting keeping
quality. Temperature history also influences the beneficial effects of a secondary treatment
such as modified atmosphere storage in extending shelf life (Marshall et al., 1991). For
most perishable foods, storage temperatures higher than recommended adversely reduce
the length of time that these products can be held in storage.
Perishable food items that are exposed to variable temperature conditions during
storage will experience deterioration rates dissimilar to those of items stored at constant
temperature. The relationships between temperature history and the rate of food quality
loss have been described with various mathematical expressions. Earliest interest in the
mathematical modeling of food quality loss was motivated by the observation that frozen
foods stored at fluctuating temperatures did not have the same shelf life as products stored
at constant temperature conditions, even though the two storage environments had the
same average temperature (Hicks, 1944; Schwimmer et al., 1955). Recent efforts in relating
food quality loss to temperature history have been discussed under the heading of “shelf
life kinetics.” Researchers have adapted the Arrhenius equation (Lai and Heldman, 1982),
an analogous approach to thermal death time (Labuza, 1979), and the Q-value technique
(Schubert, 1977) toward estimating the food quality changes in well-defined chemical
reactions such as vitamin loss or browning. Additionally, a wide variety of empirical
relationships specific to a given set of product preparation and processing parameters
have been suggested.
Food quality modeling is typically conducted at known temperature conditions, but
can be extended to variable temperature conditions if used in conjunction with a digital
data acquisition system to precisely record temperature history. However, computer-based
data acquisition systems are difficult to utilize for in-transit monitoring of temperature,
since electronic components are prone to failure under the extremes of temperature encoun-
tered as food products move through the distribution system. An alternative to utilizing
real-time temperature monitoring systems is the use of time–temperature indicators.
Time–temperature indicators are not precise temperature recorders, but are monitors
that exhibit a change in color (or another physical characteristic) in response to temperature
history. Wells and Singh (1985) classified time–temperature indicators as either partial- or

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Table 1 Studies Correlating Food Products and TTI Response


Product Reference
Pasteurized whole milk Mistry and Kosikowski (1983)
Cherng and Zall (1989)
Grisius et al. (1987)
Ice cream Dolan et al. (1985)
Frozen hamburger Singh and Wells (1986)
Chilled cod fillets Tinker et al. (1985)
Refrigerated ready-to-eat salads Campbell (1986)
Frozen bologna Singh and Wells (1986)
Whole milk, UHT Zall et al. (1986)
Refrigerated orange juice Chen and Zall (1987a)
Pasteurized milk Chen and Zall (1987b)
Pasteurized cream Chen and Zall (1987b)
Cottage cheese Chen and Zall (1987b)
Pasteurized whole milk Grisius et al. (1987)
Frozen strawberries Singh and Wells (1987)
Tomatoes, lettuce Wells and Singh (1988c)
UHT-sterilized milk Wells and Singh (1988b)
Cottage cheese Shellhammer and Singh (1991)

From Taoukis, P.S., et al. 1991. Food Technol. 45(10):70-82. With permission

Figure 1 Full-history time–temperature indicator action diagram for frozen hamburger rancidity
and I-POINT time temperature monitor model 3015. Color change ranges are denoted by 0, 1, 2,
and 3; they are separated by dotten lines A–A, B–B, and C–C. Rancidity contours are shown as
solid lines and are given for rancidity values of 52.5 and 55.0 (From Wells, J.H., et al. 1987. J. Food
Sci. 52(2):436-439, 444. With permission.)

full-history indicators, depending upon their response mechanism. Full-history indicators


respond independently of a temperature threshold, whereas partial-history indicators are
temperature dependent and do not respond unless a temperature threshold is exceeded.
A full-history time–temperature indicator can be used to monitor the cumulative temper-
ature exposure during storage and distribution, and can provide a means for comparing
items that have been exposed to different temperature histories.
The responses of time–temperature indicators have been related to quality changes in
several frozen and refrigerated foods (Table 1). Wells et al. (1987) depicted the time–
temperature-quality relationship as a plot superimposed on a scaled response of a full-
history time–temperature indicator at known time–temperature exposures. This depiction
was the first attempt to utilize time–temperature indicators for assisting in the manage-
ment of perishable food inventories. The correspondence between rancidity and monitor
response in an indicator action diagram, as shown in Figure 1, suggested that the response
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of time–temperature indicators could be used in the management of perishable inventory.


Wells (1985) discussed how a partial-history time–temperature indicator could be used in
the context of inventory management.
Inventory management policies that schedule the issue priority for a stockpile are
traditionally based on the elapsed storage time of a product. These policies do not account
for nonuniform deterioration within a perishable stockpile. Typically, such a perishable
stockpile would contain items of different ages and in various stages of deterioration,
since varying temperature conditions may have been encountered during storage and
distribution. The time-based inventory issue policies, such as first-in first-out (FIFO) and
last-in first-out (LIFO), will not produce an optimal stock issue priority for products in
inventory that have different states of deterioration. Alternative issue criteria, based on a
quality criterion such as the estimated quality level or the remaining shelf-life of a product,
are feasible if there exists a means to monitor temperature history. Utilizing time–temper-
ature indicators to predict the extent of quality change in a product based on temperature
history provides the link for implementing a quality-based criterion for inventory man-
agement. An appropriate criterion for issue of perishable products from an inventory
stockpile and the utilization of time–temperature indicators in such an inventory man-
agement strategy are described in this chapter.

Criteria for evaluating food quality


Characteristics of perishable food quality
Natural deterioration processes eventually render all food products unsuitable for their
intended purpose. The processing and handling techniques used in the food industry are
designed to retard product deterioration by stabilizing product composition and reducing
the chemical, enzymatic, and microbial changes that normally occur in unprocessed com-
modities. These common processing techniques can extend the life of perishable products,
but cannot fully arrest the physiological and biochemical degradation within a commodity
nor eliminate microbial contaminants that reside on a host product. Any discussion of
perishable food quality must include the considerations of consumptive safety, product
composition and physical properties, chemical and enzymatic activity, and microbiological
interaction and growth.
The term “quality” is used as a gross measure of the state of deterioration that has
occurred in a food. While “quality” has no scientific meaning of its own, from the per-
spective of the consumer, “quality” can be referenced to specific desirable characteristics
or attributes that are inherent to a food (Schutz et al., 1972). That is, the sensory expecta-
tions established by an individual for a food product can be expressed in terms of the
degree of the presence (or absence) of desirable (or undesirable) characteristics within the
product. Thus, an item with a greater amount of a desirable characteristic would be
perceived to be a higher-quality product, whereas an item with a lesser amount of that
same characteristic would be considered a lower-quality product.
There are strong arguments that the aggregate of food quality is most appropriately
defined by sensory perception, since perishable food is destined for human consumption.
Furthermore, each physical, chemical, enzymatic, and microbial change that is important
in the aggregate of perishable food quality should find an expression in terms of changes
in a single (or multiple) sensory characteristic(s). For example, lipid oxidation in meats
and fish (a change in the chemical and physical properties of a product) is expressed in
the development of rancid off-flavors as determined by sensory analysis. Since many of
the component changes that contribute to an overall sensorial quality of food are

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temperature dependent, examination of changes in specific attributes of food quality with


respect to temperature should correlate with overall sensory changes with respect to the
same temperature exposure. Sensory techniques, however, cannot be used as the sole
source of food quality monitoring; they must be augmented with an objective means of
microbiological and toxicity testing for proof of food safety.
The quality of a perishable food (the criterion by which consumers judge food to be
acceptable or not) may be considered as a combination of many distinctive sensory
attributes, one or more of which may change during storage. The resulting changes in
prominent sensory attributes eventually lead to consumer rejection of the product. Iden-
tification of the sensory attributes that change and the quantitative definition of these
attributes provide a means for monitoring time–temperature-related quality changes. The
changes in defined sensory characteristics that are important to consumer acceptance
must be identified and monitored. An appropriate methodology would include identifi-
cation of desirable attributes of food quality, the quantification of the magnitude of a
characteristic, and the scoring of the relative importance of an attribute to acceptance of
the product by consumers. Various specific sensory evaluation methodologies could be
used to study the extent of time-dependent changes in an attribute of food quality
(Amerine et al., 1965). Additionally, studies of time-dependent quality changes in foods
(i.e., food storage studies) have formed the basis for establishing the shelf life of a food
product (Dethmers, 1979).

Shelf life of perishable foods


Much of the research undertaken to evaluate the quality of perishable food has been aimed
at identifying the length of time necessary for overall quality changes to result in an
unacceptable product: the product shelf life. For frozen foods, the definition of shelf life
suggested by the International Institute of Refrigeration is practical storage life (PSL), “the
period of frozen storage after freezing of an initially high quality product during which
the organoleptic quality remains suitable for consumption or the process intended” (Inter-
national Institute of Refrigeration, 1972). This definition is generally considered to mean
the period of time during which sensory changes within a product cannot be detected by
an untrained consumer panel. A host of specific sensory procedures and statistical tech-
niques have been developed to define product shelf life in term of overall quality differ-
ences. These definitions employ sensory difference tests (discrimination methods) and
strict statistical criteria for shelf life failure (Amerine et al., 1965).
One popular shelf life failure procedure is just noticeable difference (JND). Shelf life,
as defined by JND procedures, is the earliest time that a difference in quality between
experimental and control samples can be detected by a predetermined number of trained
sensory panelists (Van Arsdel et al., 1969). In this type of test, the noticeable difference
between experimental and control samples is determined for the product considering all
things and not just a specific sensory attribute. This type of difference testing is usually
terminated and the product is declared to be at the end of its shelf life when a difference
between control and experimental samples is observed by a sensory panel at a predeter-
mined level of statistical significance. That level can be specified so as to call attention to
a noticeable difference that may be of commercial significance if the product had been
introduced in commerce (Dethmers, 1979).
The results of storage studies that use difference techniques provide useful information
on the expected length of time a product can be stored (i.e., an end-point measure), but
they are of limited value in determining the way a quality change takes place. Difference
testing procedures do not provide information about either the extent to which the quality

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change occurs or the rate at which it occurs. Such data can be obtained through periodic
measurement of selected sensory attributes over the storage life of a product. The aim of
a sensory testing methodology for monitoring changes in perishable food quality should
include procedures to measure the rate and extent of changes while remaining sensitive
to noticeable changes that could have an economic impact on the industry.

Predicting changes in food quality


A chemical kinetics approach to food quality modeling has been advocated by Kwolek
and Brookwalter (1971) and Labuza (1984) as the most general and widely applicable
mathematical modeling techniques to describe the influence of temperature on the rate of
quality loss. With the kinetic approach, the rate of quality loss is expressed as an expo-
nential function of the reciprocal of absolute temperature (i.e., the Arrhenius relationship).
An Arrhenius relationship was recommended by Saguy and Karel (1980) for food-quality
modeling; however, other researchers (Moreno, 1984) have preferred modified forms of
the model with additional parameters. As researchers gain a further understanding of the
pathological, biochemical, and other mechanisms that contribute to food deterioration,
further attention will likely be given to increasingly complex mathematical models that
describe changes in food quality.
The Arrhenius relationship is a two-parameter mathematical expression that describes
the rate of a chemical reaction as a function of absolute temperature. The parameters of
the model are referred to as the preexponential factor and the activation energy. The
preexponential factor is the magnitude of the reaction rate independent of temperature,
and the activation energy describes the temperature sensitivity of a reaction (Wells et al.,
1987; Wells and Singh, 1988b). Lai and Heldman (1982) derived a methodology to deter-
mine the value of the activation energy of food quality losses from shelf life data at known
storage temperatures. Lai and Heldman (1982) documented the values of activation energy
for the quality changes in a number of frozen foods. The activation energies for quality
changes in various refrigerated and semiperishable foods have also been published
(Labuza, 1982).
Wells and Singh (1988c) discussed the need for obtaining kinetic information about
changes in frozen and refrigerated food quality. They proposed the use of sensory rating
methods, specifically the deviation-from-reference technique, as a possible method of gath-
ering kinetic information. Sensory rating method can be utilized for estimating the kinetic
parameters for food quality changes observed during isothermal storage. In turn, these
kinetic models can be used to predict food quality changes under varying temperature
histories (Wells and Singh, 1988b). The use of Arrhenius models in conjunction with
computer simulation to predict food quality changes during frozen storage has been
demonstrated by Singh (1976) and Wells and Singh (1989).

Monitoring food quality with time–temperature indicators


A review of several storage study investigations using refrigerated, frozen, and shelf-
stable foods have confirmed the use of full-history time–temperature indicators as food
quality monitors (Taoukis et al., 1991). Research has provided evidence that time–tem-
perature indicators can be used with various perishable and semiperishable foods, includ-
ing meat, fish, dairy, and bakery products (Mistry and Kosikowski, 1983; Singh et al.,
1984; Singh et al., 1986). In these investigations, the responses of several indicator models
were correlated with sensory and other measures of food quality, when both indicator
and food were exposed to the same temperature conditions. Grisius et al. (1987) reported
statistical correlations between the microbial changes in pasteurized milk and full-history

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Figure 2 Plot of normalized total count enumeration and response of Life Lines indicator model 57
for constant () and variable () temperature treatments. The relationship between normalized
count and indicator response is given by: Y = –0.033X + 4.249. (From Grisius, R., et al. 1987. J. Food
Process. Preserv. 11:309-324. With permission.)

Figure 3 Comparison of the sensory () scores of tomato firmness to the scores predicted (solid
line) from the mean response of the Life Lines Indicator Model 57 during variable temperature
storage. (From Wells, and Singh, 1988).

indicator response (Figure 2). Wells and Singh (1988b) compared the observed changes
in sensorial qualities of fresh tomatoes over time with those predicted by indicator
response (Figure 3).

Stock management concepts for perishable inventories


Inventory management strategies for perishable foods
Consumer demands require management strategies that promote delivery of perishable
products with consistently high quality. Important management strategies that have been
adopted to fulfill this goal include (1) temperature control; (2) modified atomsphere
storage; (3) grading, packaging, and other quality assurance standards; and (4) inventory
management and stock rotations.

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Inventory management and stock rotation typically rely on time-based criterion such
that items within an inventory stockpile are scheduled for distribution according to the
length of time that an item has been in storage. As a demand arises for items to be
distributed from inventory, the stockpile is issued according to a ranked priority. Examples
of such procedures include (1) shipment or disposal of inventoried product held in storage
longer than some specified time (i.e., a stock rotation policy), or (2) shipment of inventory
items in order of priority beginning with the oldest (or youngest) items in storage (i.e., an
inventory issue policy). The two most common inventory issue policies used to establish
the priority in which a stockpile will be distributed are:

1. first-in, first-out (FIFO) policy, and


2. last-in, first-out (LIFO) policy.

The FIFO policy requires the oldest item within a stockpile to be issued first, and the
LIFO policy allows the youngest item on hand to take highest priority. Both policies are
based on the age of an item (e.g., the time that a product is retained in storage) regardless
of conditions that might render a product otherwise unsuitable for distribution. An alter-
native management strategy would be to implement a quality-based policy with the
management objective of issuing consistently high quality products. For such a consider-
ation, one must suppose that the shelf life of perishable food can be defined in terms of
some threshold level of quality beyond which a consumer would no longer have a pref-
erence based on the perceived quality of the product.

Classic inventory depletion problem


The operations research literature related to perishable inventory management has
addressed two fundamental problems: the inventory depletion problem and the inventory
replenishment problem. The order in which items are dispersed from an inventory stock-
pile (i.e., the decision on which items are to be issued from storage) is considered in the
inventory depletion problem, and the procedure by which the issue decision is made is
referred to as the inventory issue policy (Bomberger, 1961). The inventory depletion
problem is generally treated independent of other inventory management concerns, such
as the regular balancing of stock levels to minimize system operating costs. These concerns
are addressed in the inventory replenishment problem (Silver, 1981; Nahmias, 1982), which
is beyond the scope of the chapter.
The inventory depletion problem was formulated by Derman and Klein (1958) as a
way of determining an optimal sequence for removing items from a stockpile with units
of varying ages. It was assumed that an item issued from the stockpile had a field life that
was a known function of the age of the item, and that an item was issued in response to
a specific demand when previously issued items had expired or been consumed. The
assumptions in the problem formulation meant that the total field life of the stockpile was
dependent upon the sequence in which items were removed from the stockpile. An
inventory issue policy was considered an optimal policy when the total field life of the
entire stockpile was maximized.
The classic inventory depletion problem was formulated based on the assumption
that field life of the stockpile was a known function of age. When applied to perishable
food products that have been exposed to differing temperature histories, this assumption
is invalid and, therefore, so are the resulting management strategies for the inventory
depletion problem. Wells and Singh (1989) advocated that quality management should be
the aim of an inventory issue policy for perishable foods. Inventory issue policies based

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on the quality of items within the stockpile—rather than the age of stockpile items—is
the most appropriate issue criterion for perishable foods.

Time-based criterion for perishable inventory management


Perishable inventories may be considered to exhibit a utility function that describes the
deterioration of an item as a function storage time (i.e., a deterioration function) (Derman
and Klein, 1958). The specific mathematical form of a deterioration function constrains
the type of age-based (or time-based) issue criterion that is optimal for the inventory
depletion problem. The FIFO and LIFO issue policies were devised as the optimal solution
for the inventory depletion problem based on the uniform deterioration function of the
perishable inventory under examination (Derman and Klein, 1959; Bomberger, 1961; Pier-
skalla, 1967a and 1967b; Nahmias, 1974; Albright, 1976). Perishable inventories that exhibit
concave deterioration functions are optimally issued under a LIFO policy, and stockpiles
that deteriorate with convex functions are optimally issued with the FIFO policy (Pier-
skalla and Roach, 1972). The optimal use of these policies hold only for stockpiles where
all items deteriorate with the same uniform deterioration function. The FIFO and LIFO
inventory issue policies are time-based strategies, prioritizing inventory items for issue,
based on the total elapsed time that an item has been in storage (i.e., product age). A time-
based issue criterion does not compensate for items with an inventory stockpile that
undergo differing deterioration functions based on outside, uncontrolled factors, such as
variations in temperature history.

First-in first-out rationale


Traditionally, the FIFO issue policy is used when issuing perishable foods from frozen or
refrigerated storage. However, if zero- or first-order kinetic models are used to describe
food quality change, the deterioration function is either a decreasing linear or decreasing
concave decay function, respectively. Viewing this in terms of the classic inventory deple-
tion problem, the optimal policy for maximizing the total life of the stockpile would be
the LIFO policy. The widely used FIFO policy for perishable food suggests that there is
an alternative interpretation for the inventory depletion problem, since the LIFO policy
is considered the optimal solution for maximizing the total life of the stockpile with items
that have concave deterioration functions.
The conflict between the theoretically optimal LIFO policy and the widely used FIFO
policy can be understood by examining how each policy affects the age of an issued item.
Implementation of the FIFO policy gives highest issue priority to the oldest items within
a stockpile, while the LIFO policy gives priority to the most recently processed items. If a
LIFO issue policy (the theoretically optimal policy) was placed into effect, it is likely that
a portion of the accumulated product within the stockpile (the perpetual inventory) would
never be distributed, because any recently manufactured product would preempt the issue
of any older item. In this case, perishable foods in the perpetual inventory would eventually
become unsuitable for consumption and require disposal (stockpile obsolescence). On the
other hand, the FIFO issue policy does not have the problem of stockpile obsolescence,
because the oldest items within the inventory always have the highest priority for issue.
When all items within an inventory stockpile have the same temperature history, and
thus deteriorate with the same uniform deterioration function, use of the FIFO issue policy
will outperform the LIFO issue policy with respect to the issuance of products with
uniform quality. That follows, because when all items within the inventory stockpile
deteriorate in the same manner, the use of a FIFO issue policy gives rise to the shipment
of items that have the most consistent quality.

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As stated previously, research into the keeping quality of perishable foods has firmly
established a direct relationship between the rate of quality change and the storage tem-
perature. Thus, when elevated or variable temperature exposures occur during the history
of an item prior to being placed in the stockpile, a time-based issue policy (such as FIFO
or LIFO) is unable to compensate for the nonuniformity in deterioration functions of the
stockpile items. As a result, the consistency in the quality of the product distributed from
the stockpile may be compromised. This inconsistency is a serious drawback, especially
for foodstuffs that undergo indirect movement from manufacture to consumer and there-
fore risk possible exposure to uncontrolled or irregular temperature conditions.
Using an Arrhenius model to predict the quality changes in frozen broccoli stored at
fluctuating temperatures, Wells and Singh (1989) demonstrated that items issued under a
FIFO policy exhibit a more consistent level of quality at time of issue than do items stored
under the same conditions that were issued under a LIFO policy. It was hypothesized that
a quality-based criterion for determining the issue priority for perishable food should
include the objective of minimizing variations in product quality. With food products, a
consumer likely would indicate a preference for items of consistent quality from one
purchase to the next over a product that has a history of inconsistent quality. Additionally,
consumers will only purchase items that have not deteriorated beyond a level of quality
that is considered unacceptable.
For refrigerated and frozen foods, efforts to maintain consistent quality products
include careful raw material selection and strict quality control procedures during pro-
cessing. However, there is no analogous procedural framework in inventory management
systems that assist in ensuring that consistent quality products are issued from perishable
stockpiles. A FIFO issue policy could inadvertently retain an item that, during an addi-
tional period of storage, would become grossly inferior in quality to the issued item if the
issued item had remained in storage for the additional period of time. Under such a
scenario the variation in product quality at time of issue would be increased. In effect, the
use of an inappropriate inventory issue policy could negate measures taken during pro-
cessing to improve the consistency of quality.
In contrast to the classic inventory depletion problem, an appropriate inventory issue
policy for perishable food would seek to manage the stockpile quality in such a way that
items would be distributed with the most consistent level of quality. Perishable foods that
are exposed to variable temperature conditions will have deterioration functions that are
dissimilar to those of items stored at a constant temperature. Only in situations where
items within an inventory stockpile have completely uniform deterioration functions is
the use of time-based issue policies appropriate. An alternative inventory management
criterion would be to determine issue priority based on observed (or estimated) food quality
rather than elapsed time in storage.

Quality criterion for perishable inventory management


Ouality-based interpretation of shelf life
The shelf life of a perishable food is defined by the period of storage after processing that
an initially high-quality product remains suitable for consumption (International Institute
of Refrigeration, 1972). This implies that there is some limiting threshold of quality
(or deteriorative change) corresponding to the end of a product’s shelf life. Assuming that
the time- and temperature-dependent changes in quality characteristics can be satisfacto-
rily predicted by a deterioration function, it would follow that shelf life could be expressed
mathematically in a quality-based interpretation.

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For the quality-based interpretation, the elapsed storage time that defines an item’s
shelf life, tQ,ref, occurs when the limiting threshold quality, Qth, is reached. Implied in the
shelf life data reported in the literature is that a product is stored at a recommended
reference temperature. Thus, for any level of quality, Qn, between the initial and threshold
levels, shelf life may be expressed as the sum of an equivalent age and remaining shelf
life (Wells and Singh, 1989.) This relationship is denoted as tQ,ref = Ae,n + Ar,n, where Ae,n
and Ar,n are the equivalent age and remaining shelf life, respectively.
The equivalent age, Ae,n, represents the length of time necessary to bring about the
same level of quality, Qn, if the product had been stored at a reference temperature; while
the remaining shelf life, Ar,n, represents the length of time for food quality to change from
the observed level, Qn, to the threshold level, Qth, if the product is stored at the same
reference temperature. The remaining shelf life and equivalent age are complementary
functions of quality and are related to temperature history (time and temperature) by the
deterioration function of the perishable product.

Estimation of remaining shelf life


A generalized mathematical model to predict food quality and remaining shelf life from
the response of a full-history time–temperature indicator was presented by Wells and
Singh (1988b). In the derivation, it was presupposed that an Arrhenius model would
adequately describe both the indicator response and the changes in food quality attribute
within the range of storage temperatures to which indicator and product were exposed.
Also, the prediction of remaining shelf life was considered to hold true only for situations
of continuous quality deterioration. That is, the quality prediction model (and remaining
shelf life calculation) would not be valid in situations where temperature (or other con-
ditions) cause a discontinuity in quality deterioration. Examples of a discontinuity in
quality deterioration include thawing of frozen products, excessive proliferation or sporu-
lation of microbial contaminants, changes in product composition caused by protein
denaturation, and mechanical injury due to product damage or loss of package integrity.

Shortest remaining shelf life inventory issue policy


Wells and Singh (1989) and Taoukis et al. (1991) discussed an alternative to the time-based
FIFO issue policy based on the maximum expected remaining shelf life of a product. The
remaining shelf life was calculated from quality predictions estimated by time–temperature
indicator response during storage. Variously called the shortest remaining shelf life (SRSL)
or the least shelf life first-out (LSFO) inventory issue policy, the object of the quality-based
inventory issue policy is to prioritize stockpile distribution beginning with the items that
have the least quality reserve. Since food quality continually changes throughout storage
and distribution, the maximum expected remaining shelf life will also continue to change
largely as a consequence of the temperature history that the item has experienced.
Scheduling stockpile issue priority in the sequence from shortest to longest remaining
shelf life, the shortest remaining shelf-life (SRSL) issue policy would retain items with the
greatest amount of quality reserve within the stockpile and expedite issue of items that
would be less tolerant (or perhaps become unacceptable) if they remained in storage for
an additional period of time. In effect, the SRSL issue policy would allow inventory items
that have undergone the greatest amount of quality change to move most rapidly through
the remainder of the food distribution system. The SRSL and LSFO issue policies are
identical, because items having the least (remaining) shelf-life would be the first out of
storage. A comparison of the SRSL inventory issue policy to the FIFO and LIFO policies
was given by Wells and Singh (1989).

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Figure 4 Example of a nonuniform quality deterioration function for items ( — A, C, D;  — B)


in a perishable inventory stockpile. (From Wells, J.H. and Singh, R.P. 1989. J. Food Process. Preserv.
12:271-292. With permission.)

The utility of the SRSL issue policy is seen by considering the deterioration functions
of several items that are of the same age (Figure 4). One item (Item B) has undergone
some heat abuse during storage or distribution, while a second item (Items A, C, and D)
has been stored at a recommended isothermal condition. Without a means of detecting
temperature history, and subsequently predicting the product quality (or remaining shelf
life), neither item would be given higher priority for issue than the other. However, the
remaining shelf life of the heat-abused product (Item B) is greatly reduced as compared
to the remaining shelf life of product items stored at the recommended reference temper-
ature (Items A, C, and D). Prioritizing inventory issue based on the estimated remaining
shelf life, predicted from time–temperature indicator response, would expedite movement
of the heat-abused product (Item B) from the stockpile. In turn, this would reduce the
variation in the product quality issued from the stockpile even when remaining stockpile
items are issued at a later point in time (compare quality levels for Items A, C, and D
subsequent to issue of Item B from the stockpile).

SRSL issue policy and shelf life dating


Shelf life dating remains a crucial decision in the management of perishable food inventory.
Manufactured products are stamped with a use by or pull date to reflect the estimated time
when the shelf life of a product will be reached. These dates are stated, given some
conservative assumption of storage temperature and handling procedure. Management
of perishable inventories then rely on high rates of inventory turnover, assisted by price
discounting if necessary, to ensure that items are not stored beyond their pull dates. The
use of conservative pull-dating likely results in the loss, disposal, or deeply discounted
sales of significant amounts of high quality product. Such disposal practices are conducted
without the benefit of a means of estimating if quality changes are sufficient to deem that
product performance would warrant removal from inventory.
Inasmuch as management of perishable inventories with the SRSL policy establishes
issue priority on the remaining shelf life, the SRSL policy could be used as an objective
means for establishing a product pull date. Pull dates are established on the basis of an
assumed storage condition and a stated limiting performance threshold for the product.

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Since the remaining shelf life is calculated as the difference between a current estimate of
quality and a limiting threshold, such a procedure could be used to determine the time
remaining to reach the threshold that defines the pull date. A remaining shelf life of zero
(or a negative remaining shelf life) would mean that the objective quality threshold had
been reached (or exceeded). A remaining shelf life of zero would imply that there is no
difference between the quality of a product in its current state and the threshold quality
level requiring a product to be pulled from stock. A negative remaining shelf life would
mean that the product quality has already deteriorated below that considered tolerable.

Quality-based management of perishable inventories


Food storage and distribution systems
The typical storage and distribution system for movement of perishable food from man-
ufacture to consumption was detailed by Wells and Singh (1992). The perishable distribu-
tion chain encompasses the movement of food from manufacturer (the point in the pro-
cessing of a food such that the item is suitable for retail purchase) to consumer (a retail
outlet where products are delivered to the final user/consumer). Little control can be
exerted by processors and suppliers over the destiny of perishable foods beyond the retail
outlet other than point-of-purchase information and other consumer education measures.
Within a distribution center and other storage locations throughout the distribution chain,
inventory stockpiles accumulate as product “lots” are received in excess of the number of
“case lots” or stock keeping units (SKUs) that are distributed. Also, quantities of inventory
are held in reserve to supply multiple locations either on demand or because of seasonable
manufacturing. Transaction records of the inventory stockpile form the primary source of
information on which to base scheduling of inventory distribution. Since perishable food
inventories are destined for retail consumption, a quality-based management strategy must
be oriented to deliver the highest, most consistent quality products possible.

Use of time–temperature indicators to manage food quality


The use of time–temperature indicators as food quality monitors has been demonstrated
experimentally by several researchers. Furthermore, the mathematical relationship between
time–temperature indicator response and food quality change has been detailed in Chapter
11 and provides the foundation on which product inventory could actively be managed
with the use of time–temperature indicators rather than the elapsed storage time. Such a
scheme would establish a framework to justify taking action to expedite the shipment of
heat-abused products from the warehouse and would call attention to any segment of the
distribution chain that was deficient in temperature maintenance procedures.

Distribution decision support systems for stockpile management


The mathematical nature of the SRSL inventory issue policy lends itself to the implemen-
tation of additional logistical and quality constraints that could be used in the context of
a distribution decision support system (DDSS) (Wells, 1987). Inventory distribution from
a perishable stockpile is based on an inventory issue policy in conjunction with stockpile
transaction records or from physical observation of the stockpile to determine the quantity
of each product lot on hand. The information is then synthesized into a form in which
items in the stockpile can be prioritized for shipment.
Supplemental decision criteria regarding inventory quality can also be included in a
DDSS. Constraints imposed by the logistics of distribution and/or premium quality

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standards, in addition to ranking the stockpile items for shipment priority, could be
accommodated within the framework of the SRSL issue policy. For instance, in situations
where logistics of delivery require lengthy travel time, stockpile items could be selected
such that Ar,n > Ar,min, where Ar,n is the remaining shelf life of the product to be issued and
Ar,min is the length of time that is required to deliver the shipment (plus any required
length of storage at the destination). This constraint would ensure that the remaining shelf
life of a product be greater than the length of time it takes to ship the inventory to its
destination, plus the expected time prior to consumption of the product. Such a constraint,
of course, assumes that no temperature mishandling will occur and that recommended
reference temperature is maintained. Remaining shelf life predictions at the time of ship-
ment would be based on the temperature history of the product as monitored by the
time–temperature indicator; the remaining shelf life after shipment would be conditional
on maintenance at the recommended reference temperature throughout shipment and
storage. That is, the remaining shelf life depends on the actual storage temperature main-
tained subsequent to shipment and not on the temperature upon which the SRSL issue
decision is based.
The SRSL inventory issue policy could also be used in conjunction with constraints
placed on a threshold of premium quality. Since items with a longer remaining shelf
life—and hence a higher quality level—may command a premium price at a retail outlet
compared to items of a lesser quality, an inventory stockpile could be segregated into
groupings of premium and nonpremium items by comparing the estimated quality to the
limiting value of a premium quality threshold. Items then that met premium quality
requirements could be distributed to preferred retail locations or otherwise marketed
separately.
Implementation of an inventory management system to provide distribution decision
support can be facilitated with advanced microcomputer systems (Wells, 1987; Singh and
Wells, 1987). The microcomputer provides both the environment to conduct the calculation
of remaining shelf life from time–temperature indicator response and the means to struc-
ture the information relevant to inventory management. Additionally, telecommunication
links to send time–temperature indicator responses from remote locations to a central base
can be accomplished via a computer modem (Kral et al., 1988).
Menu-driven software has been developed by Singh and Wells (1987) for demonstrat-
ing a computer-based inventory management system, and the development of commercial
systems were reported by Taoukis et al. (1991). Figure 5 shows a screen display by Wells
and Singh (1987) indicating the provision for choice of inventory issue policy and supple-
mental distribution decision support criteria. Other features of this software include a
means to calculate quality predictions based on time–temperature indicator response and
the ability to predict the effect of known (or simulated) temperature histories on food
quality changes.
Development of user-friendly software, designed to function as an add-on to existing
transaction recording and inventory management software, should remain a priority. Such
systems must incorporate the SRSL issue policy as well as conventional issue policies. The
requirement of computer-based inventory management systems includes (1) industry
standard data and file transfer protocol, (2) a high level of compatibility with commercial
databases used in tracking inventory transactions, and (3) a telecommunications interface
for remote access and data transfer. Software packages for perishable inventory manage-
ment using a hand-held scanner to monitor time–temperature indicator response must
also be examined with respect to statistical sampling plans and normal variations within
food products (Wells, 1987). A quality-based inventory management system promises to
improve the quality and consistency of products delivered to the consumer, and such a
system has been demonstrated to be feasible using time–temperature indicators.

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Figure 5 Screen graphic of the results of a decision support calculation showing the SRSL issue
priority with no shipment advisory.

Conclusions
Full-history time–temperature indicators can be used to provide important information
regarding unusual or fluctuating temperature conditions during storage and distribution
of perishable foods. Methods have been established that utilize indicator responses to
predict changes in food quality, thus allowing inventory management decisions to be
based on food quality rather than elapsed storage time. Introduction of a quality-based
inventory management strategy has the potential to enhance the consistency in the quality
of perishable foods delivered to the consumer without compromising the overall level of
quality acceptable to the consumer.
An important characteristic of the SRSL policy is that it retains the same issue order
as the FIFO policy when all items deteriorate in the same manner, but compensates for
nonuniform deterioration when evidenced by the time–temperature indicator. Using SRSL
as a criterion for inventory management has the potential to improve the quality of
perishable foods delivered to a consumer. Improvements in consistency of perishable food
quality by implementing a quality-based issue policy could heighten the reputation of
products that have established consistent quality standards in raw material selection and
process quality control. Additionally, the SRSL policy could be used to establish objective
criteria for shelf life dating that does not lead to inventory removal unless warranted by
the magnitude of the estimated quality change.

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List of Abbreviations and Acronyms


DDSS Distribution Decision Support System
FIFO First-In First-Out
JND Just Noticeable Difference
LIFO Last-In First-Out
LSFO Least Shelf-life First-Out (same as SRSL)
PSL Practical Storage Life
SKU Stock Keeping Unit
SRSL Shortest Remaining Shelf Life (same as LSFO)

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