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Food Waste…Recovery for the Planet
Food waste is a topic on the minds of many in the foodservice industry today. Many prefer to refer to “food waste” as “wasted food,” as the latter term invokes images of heightened consciousness for perfectly good food being discarded, foods that could be donated to feed the hungry, as opposed to scraps of leftovers that should be doomed to the trash. While food salvaging is important to feeding hungry people, it’s also important to do so with food safety in mind. Also, how can you keep your food dollars out of the trash or lost in compost piles in the first place?
According to ReFED (ReThink Food Waste), US businesses throw away 52 million tons of food each year, and spend roughly $218 billion dollars on growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never consumed. Food Waste Reduction Alliance equates this to 25% – 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the US. Similar data from USDA’s Economic Research Service shows 31% food loss in 2010 (133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food), with far-reaching impacts on food security, resources and climate change. Reducing food waste keeps food out of landfills, reduces methane emissions and has other environmental impacts, i.e., conserving natural resources such as water, soil, and energy.
Minimizing wasted food can also have beneficial impacts on a foodservice operation’s bottom line, reducing the overall cost of operations and increasing efficiency. Reducing waste at the source is the most cost-effective food recovery strategy, since both waste hauling and food purchasing costs can significantly decrease when strategies top reduce waste at the source (your kitchen) are employed.
The Food Recovery Hierarchy ranks source reduction at the top of its priorities as a strategy to reduce wasted food, that is reducing the volume of surplus food generated. According to the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Program, efficiently using and tracking the food that you purchase is the key to running a successful food operation. Pre-consumer food waste is due to four factors: overproduction, expiration, spoilage and trimming. A consistent food rotation and labeling program is critical in cutting food waste at the source (your kitchen.) Here are some specifics you can do:
- Label and use foods before they expire or spoil
- Portion foods into serving sizes
- Inventorying food & tracking waste
- Adjusting food ordering accordingly
- Provide half-portions on the standard menu
- Monitoring portions and "right sizing" them as necessary
- Using the whole protein (e.g.,"nose-to-tail" cooking, broccoli stems and leaves in soups)
- Offering appropriately-sized "to-go" containers
- Transitioning from self-service buffets to "served" food stations
Inevitably, there is food waste in any food operation, whether through expired products and spoilage, excessive purchasing practices or overproduction. Knowing how to manage those wasted food items can impact not only hungry populations but the environment.