Lot and Batch Tracking: How to Improve Food Distribution

Learn about the importance of tracking batch numbers in the food industry.

January 3, 2023

food distribution lettuce carrying worker

As a food industry professional, you know that lot and batch tracking is essential for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. But without the proper controls, capturing and tracking product attributes can be tedious, error-prone, and time-consuming. The terms “batch number” and “lot number” are used interchangeably throughout this article.

The importance of tracking specific products through the supply chain was brought to the forefront in 2013 with the horse meat scandal, where major supermarkets were unaware of the contents of the products on their shelves. While horse meat poses no immediate health threat, the incident served as a wake-up call for consumers, who began to question the origins of their food. Since then, the industry has been under pressure to improve transparency and accountability in the supply chain, and batch tracking plays a crucial role in achieving that goal.

In this article, we’ll explore how lot batch tracking can improve distribution efficiency, the importance of tracking and the seven questions you should consider when implementing batch numbers. By understanding these benefits and the best practices for implementing them, you can ensure food safety, comply with regulations and maintain consumer trust.

Warehouse that uses batch tracking

The Importance of Tracking Batch and Lot Numbers in the Food Industry

A batch or lot number is a unique identifier used to distinguish a specific group of products within the supply chain. The manufacturer often assigns it and may include information about the production date, raw materials, and equipment used.

Retailers often require companies to track lot numbers to meet compliance standards and ensure the safety and quality of products for consumers. This may involve audits of facilities to verify how batches are recorded, generated, and recalled, if necessary, as well as the information associated with each batch number. Many retailers follow accreditation standards, such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC), to ensure that manufacturers meet legal requirements and provide safe products to consumers.

The Importance of Tracking Sell-By Dates and Expiry Dates

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that businesses in the food industry use sell-by and expiration dates to ensure food safety and quality. According to their guidelines, all pre-packed food products should display a use-by or best-before date on the packaging. Additionally, by law, businesses must maintain accurate records of their stock rotation and labelling practices to ensure compliance with food safety regulations.

Failing to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines from significant UK retailers and harm your business’s reputation. In 2019, for instance, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, was fined £732,000 for selling out-of-date food products. Consumers in the UK rely heavily on sell-by and expiration dates to make informed decisions about the food products they purchase. Therefore, businesses must prioritise accurately tracking and labelling these dates to maintain customer trust and satisfaction.

By implementing good stock rotation practices and accurately labelling sell-by and expiration dates, businesses can ensure that their customers receive safe, high-quality products. This, in turn, can help promote their business’s long-term reputation and well-being.

Maximising Shelf Life for Customers

Managing expiry dates and batch numbers is crucial in the UK food industry, with strict regulations to ensure food safety and quality. According to the Food Standards Agency, incorrect date labelling and poor stock rotation are the reasons for food waste and product recalls.

To ensure best practices in food handling and keep customers happy, selecting a system that can handle the specific logic needed for allocating stock correctly for each customer is essential. As per the UK Government’s guidelines, businesses must have systems to ensure that food is safe and correctly labelled with use-by or best-before dates.

Moreover, as customer demands change, it’s vital that the system can adapt quickly and easily without incurring significant development costs. In the UK, food retailers face increasing pressure from consumers to reduce food waste and improve sustainability, which may require product offerings and stock management changes.

Consider these factors carefully when choosing a system to support your food handling best practices. According to a report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the UK food industry produces 9.5 million tonnes of food waste yearly, with 71% arising in the food production and manufacturing sectors. A system that can handle the specific logic needed for allocating stock for different customers and also adapt to changing customer demands without incurring high development costs is the one that will help you manage and organise your inventory efficiently.

By effectively managing expiry dates and batch numbers, you can reduce the amount of food waste your business generates by implementing a system that helps you manage expiry dates and batch numbers. This benefits the environment and can lead to significant cost savings for your business. After all, customer satisfaction is crucial to the success of any business in the food industry, and a robust system that supports your operations can help you achieve that.

Effective Methods for Tracking Batch, Lot, and Expiry Dates

Tracking batch, lot, and expiry dates is an essential aspect of inventory management in many industries, especially the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries. The accurate tracking of these dates ensures that products are safe for consumption and use, and it also helps to prevent product recalls and waste.

Here are some practical methods for tracking batch, lot, and expiry dates:

  1. Barcode or QR code scanning: Using barcodes or QR codes to track batch and lot numbers can be an efficient method for inventory tracking. Scanning the codes can quickly provide information about the product’s manufacturing and expiration dates, quickly identifying expired or soon-to-expire products.
  2. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging: RFID tagging allows real-time inventory tracking. Each item can be tagged with an RFID chip that contains information about the product’s batch and lot numbers, manufacturing and expiration dates, and other important information. Scanning the RFID chip with an RFID reader can easily access this information, allowing for accurate and efficient inventory tracking.
  3. First-In, First-Out (FIFO) method: Using the oldest inventory first ensures that products are used or sold before expiration. FIFO can be implemented manually or automated using inventory management software that tracks the age of inventory and alerts users when products are approaching their expiration dates.
  4. Lot control: Lot control involves assigning a unique lot number to each batch of products, making it easier to track and trace products. This method benefits products with short shelf life or high-risk products like pharmaceuticals.
  5. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): EDI electronically exchanges business documents between organisations, such as purchase orders and invoices. Using EDI to track inventory and expiration dates can improve accuracy and speed up the tracking process, reducing the risk of expired products remaining in inventory.


In summary, tracking batch and lot numbers is a critical aspect of the food industry for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers alike. Capturing and monitoring these product attributes can be tedious and error-prone without proper controls, potentially damaging a business’s reputation. A batch or lot number is a unique identifier that links to the production date, raw materials, processing equipment, job numbers, or production plans.

Retailers often require traceability of lot numbers to recall specific batches of products if necessary. Combining batch numbers with sell-by dates or expiration dates provides additional traceability and information for consumers.

Utilising suitable software systems can significantly streamline the process of tracking batch and lot numbers and reduce the risk of errors. By following industry standards and guidelines, such as those set by the British Retail Consortium, businesses can ensure their products’ quality, safety, and compliance and ultimately protect the end consumer. By implementing batch tracking, companies can keep customers safe, comply with regulations and build consumer trust.

Suppose you are considering implementing tracking in your business. In that case, it is worth speaking with a team member at Clarus WMS to learn how their cloud-based platform can streamline processes and simplify data capture.

With a flexible monthly subscription model, no long-term commitment, and the ability to get users live within two weeks, Clarus WMS can help ensure accurate stock rotation and avoid fines. As a UK-based supplier of cloud warehouse management solutions with extensive experience in the food industry (such as Culina Group), Clarus WMS is well-equipped to meet the needs of businesses in this sector.

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