Have Expired Chemicals in Your Lab? Never Again with Effective Chemical Inventory Management

chemical inventory management
Chemical inventory management is essential for keeping track of the expiration dates and shelf lives of chemicals, which can become dangerous when left unmonitored.
Image Source: Flickr User Ben Stephenson

Experiments are not built equally in complexity. In fact, some require the perfect coordination of resources, time, energy and courage which, when existing at this perfect ratio, can finally propel a scientist into completing a complicated, but necessary control for example. So imagine a scientist’s frustration after she has collected her energy, courage and time only to discover that an experiment cannot be carried out because one chemical has expired. Unfortunately, poor chemical inventory management makes such situations more common than they should be, resulting in lost time for the individual and the lab, as well as lost resources. As Richard Flaherty writes for Lab Manager, better chemical inventory management can “increase safety and reduce materials and removal costs,” while also ensuring that researchers have the necessary materials to complete their lab work.

The dangers of losing track of expiration dates

In the video “How Tracking Chemical Inventory Expiration Dates in Real-Time Increases Efficiency and Lowers Costs,” we discuss how easy it is to “[lose] track of chemical containers when their expiration dates are not tracked by a digital chemical inventory system.” Unfortunately, when these chemicals expire, disposal costs are also incurred and given that the material was not used efficiently before it’s disposal, the cumulative loss to the lab is significant. Furthermore, pressed for time, some researchers might decide to use chemicals regardless of their expiration date, using color as an indicator of its imagined effectiveness. Unfortunately, this practice is problematic at best and at worst, places the scientist and his or her lab mates at risk of chemical-related accidents because of expiration.

Additionally, expired chemicals pose safety and/or regulatory violations, which can be especially damaging for companies that deal in human products or food materials. Indeed, in his article for Lab Manager, Flaherty lists the most common chemical storage practices that are actually violations, which include “storage of expired chemicals, incompatible and reactive chemicals stored alphabetically, oxidizing chemicals mixed with organic lab waste, open containers kept in satellite storage areas between pours, poor recording keeping, unlabeled or poorly labeled secondary containers.” Together, these mistakes can be prevented when proper chemical inventory management protocols are in effect.

Specifically concerning expired chemicals, Flaherty suggests that labs should avoid purchasing chemicals in bulk given that all standards have a limited shelf life even when left unopened. Instead, laboratories should purchase smaller quantities with more frequent inventory turnovers. Not only are expired chemicals useless for an experiment, but they can also be volatile and dangerous when they exceed their expiration dates and both complicated and difficult to dispose. Thus, by buying only what you need, labs could save thousands of dollars worth of wasted materials, while still ensuring that the necessary supplies are available.

Institution-wide chemical inventory management and collaboration

If labs in a single institution are very serious about saving costs, institutions could implement programs in which nearby or adjoining labs share certain chemicals in order to ensure that materials are efficiently used, while reducing the costs for individual lives. As described in the book “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards,” a chemical inventory management system can be “centralized in one purchasing office or may be dispersed to varying degrees throughout the institution.” This centralization process enables laboratory personnel to determine if a material is already available in another laboratory and can be utilized, as well as the “minimum quantity that will suffice for current use,” in order to reduce waste as previously discussed. Additionally, this centralized system would be monitored in order to determine when a product is expiring to enable its proper disposal and to alert researchers on its status. Thus, a well-designed chemical inventory management system can promote the economical use of chemicals while also helping lab members to determine the shelf life of these materials and where they are located in a building.

We have developed one of the most through chemical inventory management systems through our BIOVIA CISPro software, which enables managers and researchers to track and report the use of chemicals and related supplies in multiple facilities and locations. Our software thus supports accurate and real-time chemical inventory data, while also helping to ensure that a laboratory’s practices adhere to safety regulations. To determine how BIOVIA CISPro can be used in your company, please visit our website today.

4 thoughts on “Have Expired Chemicals in Your Lab? Never Again with Effective Chemical Inventory Management

  1. Expired chemicals are a real problem in lab work. They pose health and safety risks as well as risks to the work being done. Inventory management programs are the best way to track and remove expired chemicals.

  2. It really depends on the storage conditions. Nevertheless, to ensure safety people should take it seriously.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. Expired chemicals are indeed a problem and inventory management is important to keep track of this process and to serve as an additional safety measure in labs where people do not take safety as seriously as they should–or sometimes simply forget!

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