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Reducing Waste and Saving Money: Action Steps for Operators

Reducing Waste and Saving Money: Action Steps for Operators

In the previous post we discussed the six main areas of the food supply chain and the food losses that occur along the way. Clearly, all parts of this chain contribute to the total amount of food waste, some more than significantly than others. For example, approximately 86 billion pounds of food was lost in households and foodservice operations in 2008. That’s 19% of the total retail-level food supply. When reflecting on purchasing, storing, cooking, and consuming habits, it’s easy to see why this figure is so high. No matter the type of foodservice operation you are involved in, there are ample opportunities to reduce the amount of food that is wasted on a daily basis. In the third and final installment of this series on food waste, we will discuss ten tips to reduce food waste in your foodservice operation.

1. Choose suppliers with sustainable practices
Reducing food waste in the kitchen can start with the purchasing power you have as a consumer. As a large scale purchaser of food, you have more power behind your dollar than an individual or smaller operation.  When buying ingredients for your kitchen, whether it is produce, dairy, meat, poultry, or fish, choose products and suppliers with sustainable farming and operational practices.  Moreover, buying local products keeps the supply chain shorter, thereby decreasing food waste along the way.

2. Quickly and properly store all perishables 
As you well know, kitchens can be hectic places with a ton of things going on at once. When deliveries arrive, it can be difficult to put perishables away in a timely manner.  However, doing so can dramatically increase the shelf life of a product and therefore, reduce food waste. Additionally, conducting inventory regularly will help you rotate your stock and realize when you need to use up an ingredient before it goes to waste.

3. Conduct a food waste audit
Tracking and analyzing current food waste trends will help you and your staff pinpoint where changes can be made in your operation to tackle food waste. There very well may be a small change that can make a big impact, but this will only be revealed after an audit.

4. Use commonly wasted ingredients
How often do you trash trimmings, stale bread, peels, or animal bones and tails? Believe it or not, most of these ingredients can be repurposed to make delicious food. Vegetable trimmings and animal parts can be used to make soups and stocks, and stale bread can easily crafted into breadcrumbs for a thousand different dishes. Using these ingredients diverts them from the landfill and reduces the amount of food waste in your kitchen.

5. Reduce inventory size
Are there ingredients stashed away in your pantry or refrigerator for the special one or two dishes in which they are needed? Not only are these ingredients taking up precious shelving or refrigerator space, but in all likelihood, they are going bad before being entirely used up. Reducing inventory size can make a huge dent in the total volume food wasted in your kitchen. 

6.Evaluate holding time limits
There are, of course, food safety regulations behind how long food can be kept hot , but some foodservice operations (often buffets or quick service restaurants) hold food for short periods of time based on quality standards. This can create large amounts of food waste. Evaluating how long food is kept hot or cold and adjusting time or quantity as needed can greatly contribute to the reduction of food waste.

7. Reduce serving size/go trayless
I’m sure all of us have been that consumer in a restaurant – the one who ordered way more food than could be eaten in a sitting and then let the leftovers go to waste. If your foodservice operation is table or counter service, a great way to reduce the amount of food your customer wastes is to reduce the serving size. This can have other side benefits such as reducing the food costs that go into the meal, and limiting the opportunities to overeat. If your operation has a buffet line, going trayless can cut down on consumer driven food waste significantly. Customers will not be able to pile up as much food on their first pass, causing them to not only eat less, but waste less as well.

8. Offer to-go containers
Providing to-go containers for customers who do not finish their meals can help to reduce food waste. This way, customers are more likely to take their leftover food home instead of letting it go to the trash.

9. Donate leftovers
If, at the end of the day, you still find that your foodservice operation has leftover food, donate to a local food bank or other food recovery service. Aside from reducing the amount of total food waste, this has two other benefits.  First, the donation of food is usually tax deductible for your business. Second, one in six families in the U.S. is food insecure, and donating your leftover food can help to nourish these families and communities.

10.  Introduce composting to your waste disposal services
Unfortunately, no matter what, having some food waste is inevitable. You will likely not be able to repurpose every single vegetable trimming or donate all of your leftovers. However, by introducing a composting system into the kitchen, you can divert organic products from the landfill, thereby reducing those methane emissions we discussed in the first installment. Furthermore, finished compost provides key nutrients and microorganisms to the soil needed to grow food, so composting ultimately does much more than simply prevent waste. 

Understanding the sheer amount of food that is wasted worldwide and domestically can certainly be overwhelming, but you as a restaurant and consumer have more power than you realize to change the status quo. This list of ten gives you plenty of options that can be tailored to fit your specific kitchen’s needs. Starting with a waste audit is a great way to determine a jumping off point to reduce food waste, but if that seems like an overwhelming project, simply pick a few suggestions to start with and run some experiments.

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