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What can food operators do to reduce waste?

What can food operators do to reduce waste?

Food Service Operator Food Waste

Primary losses in food service occur as a result of waste during food prep as well as waste from uneaten food due to excessive serving sizes. Gunders states, “4-10 percent of food purchased by restaurants becomes kitchen loss…before reaching the consumer. Another significant portion is served but never eaten.” According to the Green Restaurant Association, a single restaurant in the U.S. can produce 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste each year. UK-based WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) claims that every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

These statistics show an enormous opportunity for operators to better control the amount of food purchased, food served, and ultimately food thrown away. It’s essential for operators to rethink how their actions impact food waste and the resulting impact on the environment. Want to know where to begin? Here are some actionable steps you can take to get started.

Track Your Food Waste

Track your food waste for 1 week to determine the primary source of waste in your kitchen - is it from food prep or is it from plate waste?

One of our SPE Certified universities, UMASS Amherst, has successfully tracked and managed their waste through the LeanPath program. LeanPath allows users to track the source of the waste via the LeanPath Food Waste Tracking System. By figuring out the source, UMass was able to determine whether their food waste was from prep or plate waste, better forecast their needs, and ultimately reduce waste by 25%.

Minimize Prep Waste

Once you know what is contributing to your food waste, you can take steps to minimize it:

  • Adjust forecasting based on the results of your waste tracking
  • Find ways to utilize imperfect fruits and vegetables instead of discarding them
  • Reserve any trim from prep for use in other food prep (i.e. stocks, soups, staff meal, purees)


In general, you can minimize waste and maximize yield by using all parts of your produce. Chef Steven Satterfield’s cookbook, Root to Leaf is a great source of inspiration. In addition to the cookbook by Chef Steven Satterfield, other chefs and retailers have also emphasized using the whole vegetable and imperfect parts to curtail the waste problem.

  • Chef Dan Barber recently hosted a pop-up in New York City, wastED, which demonstrated how to successfully repurpose food that has been traditionally considered as trash.
  • In the beginning of March, Canada’s largest food retailer, Loblaw, started to package unbranded “naturally imperfect” apples and potatoes and sold them at a discount.
  • In France, the supermarket Intermarché began a similar campaign called the “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”, also selling the perfectly imperfect fruits and veggies at a discounted price.
  • In the United States, Bon Appétit launched its Imperfectly Delicious Produce program to connect farmers and operators to identify produce that can be used instead of being composted on the farm before it has a chance to get to market.


Minimize Plate Waste

Plate waste is the food customers leave food on the plate after they finish their meal. Waste can be cut down by learning what food was left on the plate and why. These are some questions you can use to help assess food waste in your business.

  • Are portions an appropriate size?
  • Are customers frequently asking for leftovers to be wrapped up for them?
  • Is there a pattern of items being left on plates?


Have a Waste Plan

In response to a growing concern around food waste, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a Food Recovery Challenge, asking people to rethink waste and has also joined forces with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the US Food Waste Challenge. The USDA and EPA are urging people to:

  • Reduce food waste through improved storage methods, selective shopping/ordering, labeling, and cooking methods
  • Recover food waste by connecting potential food donors to hunger relief organizations such as food banks and pantries.
  • Recycle food waste through composting, bioenergy and natural fertilizers or to feed animals.


Spread the word

  • Educate and train staff about your waste initiatives
  • Leverage your commitments to market to customers
  • Help influence change by promoting your efforts to manage waste


Operators have great influence over managing waste from prep to plate and can use what is learned about their own waste to better manage their needs. This can lead to a reduction in food cost, improved menu items, and ultimately educating their staff and customers about the importance of reducing waste for the environment.

sustainability, waste reduction

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