Combating Food Waste in Your Restaurant

The last thing you want as a restaurant owner is to watch your money get thrown out in the garbage. Unfortunately, when you waste food, this is exactly what’s happening. It’s seemingly easy to do, some milk here, apples there, and right before your eyes, thousands of dollars have gone to waste. Because it’s so easy, it’s estimated that there are 60 million tons of food wasted annually throughout the United States, and it’s likely that your restaurant is contributing. So how can your restaurant put anti-food waste steps into effect? Here are some actionable steps your restaurant can take to help cut down on food waste.

Create a committee. Either find individuals motivated to take a stand against food waste or incentivize the position, but make sure you have people from different areas in your restaurant as part of the committee. You don’t want to involve your whole kitchen staff, only to leave out the wait staff. You also need your purchaser on board (whether that’s you or an employee).

Practice FIFO. If you don’t know what FIFO is, listen up! A ‘first in, first out’ system allows your food preparation to run more smoothly, while keeping in mind the issue of food waste. When a new food order comes in, put the new food on the right and shift the previously-purchased food to the left. Cooks then grab food in a reverse order (left to right) to make sure they are using the items that will expire more quickly than the food on the right hand side.

*Pro Tip: When organizing your storage area, beware of cross-contaminating foods. Raw chicken does not belong next to fresh produce so don’t let all your rules go out the window to focus on FIFO. Shelf-labeling is handy while keeping in mind newer versus previously-purchase food and the types of food that can be stored together.

Control portion size in the kitchen. This requires due-diligence from your staff. As kitchens get busy, eyeballing ingredients (aka not paying attention to the pre-priced amounts from your menu plan) becomes more common but this is one way that customers end up with more food than they need and often more than they paid for. American restaurants are notorious for unnecessarily large portion sizes. You want to satisfy your guests, but not at the cost of your bottom line. A great way to cut down on food wasted by customers is to allow them to choose their portion size by offering lunch and dinner sizes on the menu. The less food that’s left on your guests’ plates, the better.

Repurpose ingredients. Have a lot of leftover shredded chicken from yesterday’s fajita special? Make chicken tortilla soup! If you’re flexible with your specials, soup can turn leftover nightmares into the next day’s featured dinner.

Make over your menu. Speaking of flexibility, you’ll want to check in on how each of your menu items are doing. If you must buy highly-specialized ingredients for a few items, make sure they’re worth it. If they are sub-par performers on your menu, change it up! It’s easier to broaden your menu with dishes that have more universal ingredients. A lot of restaurants turn to a focused menu to use up any surplus and still offer a variety of options without sacrificing storage space while cutting unnecessary costs.

Compost. Chances are your restaurant probably builds up (and throws away) a lot of produce scraps. Whether it’s from leftover salads or unused portions, these scraps can easily be composted. If your restaurant has its own little garden that grows herbs, use these as fertilizer. Or build community relations and reach out to farmers who could use the compost to help supplement their crops.

Donate what you can. If your restaurant has exhausted the options to using leftover food, consider donating. There are many organizations around the country that help excess food get to those who are in need. If you’re concerned about liability and the legality of your donation, review the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 to understand your rights as the donating party.

Full dumpster

Keeping food waste in the forefront your mind when running your restaurant and making operational decisions is crucial in combating the problem. Taking the steps above are just a few ways your restaurant can have an impact on this destructive global trend. Integrating these better choices into your business model can cut down on food waste and save you money at the end of the day.

Do you have plan for food waste in your restaurant? What steps do you take to combat it? Tell us below in the comments.

Food Waste: A Huge Deal For the Planet and Your Restaurant

Food Waste

When you hear the phrase “third largest cause of greenhouse gases”, what comes to your mind? Fracking? Carbon dioxide emissions? Nuclear power-plants? Of course, these have an impact on the environment but it’s actually food waste that holds the bronze medal in greenhouse gas emission. In fact, “6.7% of all global greenhouse gases come from food waste” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

So why should this matter to you and your restaurant? Food waste is not an issue limited to third world countries, it’s an issue across the globe, and influences your bottom line. Food wasted in your restaurant leads your managers having to order (and spend) more.

Food waste slips the average consumer’s mind because it’s just food, it will break down in a landfill wherever it ends up, right? Wrong! Most landfills become anaerobic because large volumes of trash are crammed tightly together, making it impossible for waste to decompose. Because it’s not able to decompose, food waste primarily emits methane gas, especially meats like beef and lamb, for longer periods of time.

From Restaurant to Landfill

The irony of food waste is a double-edged sword. While restaurants are busy throwing out food, many people aren’t getting the proper nutrition they need.

Food waste happens in a variety of ways in different countries, but it is a shared fault of all global communities, regardless of wealth or status. In the US, 62 million tons of food are wasted annually and $218 billion are spent growing, processing, and transporting wasted food.

To make matters worse, food waste happens in some shape or form at almost every stage in its lifecycle, stretching resources very thin. In total, global food waste eats away at “19% of fertilizer, 21% of all fresh water, 18% of cropland, and 21% of landfill volume” throughout the growing, production, and consumption processes.  Of the 62 million tons wasted, about 10 million tons are from unharvested or thrown away food on farms, with the remaining 52 million tons sent to a landfill.

The numbers are staggering to know how much is wasted, but it’s even more concerning that one in seven Americans are food insecure. Per the USDA,  food insecurity is “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food”. Food security continues to be a very real issue, even though 1.3% of the American GDP is spent on food waste.

Combat Food Waste with Donations

In a world where resources are shrinking, now is the time for foodservice industries, farms, production facilities, and end users to take action.

So what can restaurants do to help? Here are some tips to help reduce your carbon footprint and use your food wisely.

Knowledgeable ordering– Prevent food waste before the food even enters your kitchen! Food waste is not only costly to the planet; it hurts your bottom line. Proper staff training, up to date recipe cards, and a weekly inventory check can lead to effective food ordering.

Portion sizes– Calculating how much food goes into each menu item and stick to them can reduce future orders of food that are unnecessary.

Compost– Decomposing produce is the perfect nutrient for your onsite herb garden, turning your food waste into a food win! If you don’t have the space to run your own garden, help local farming or gardening efforts with your compost.

Donate– Many communities have started grassroots movements to reroute potential wasted food with needy parties such as senior centers or homeless shelters. These organizations make sure the food is in good condition and not wasted. Restaurants are also able to write off the cost of the food as an itemization on tax forms. You will need to calculate whether it’s more worth it for your business to give up its standard deduction in favor of itemized deductions.

The less food your restaurant wastes, the less money you will see piling up in a landfill. Food waste will continue to be an issue for those in the food service industries if the proper steps aren’t taken. Being smart with food orders, menu portion sizes, compost efforts, and donation centers are crucial for sustainably operating your restaurant while also keeping in mind your bottom line. By taking steps to lessen food waste, your restaurant can make a significant impact on its community.

Top Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Restaurant

Food Waste in a Garbage Can - Image Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

There is a growing concern in our country that those in the restaurant industry need to know about: food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the food supply, which is about 133 billion pounds of food per year. That is a lot of food! With this abundance of food waste, the negative impacts are becoming greater. We are seeing nutritious food that could help feed families in need being sent to landfills. As these landfills continue to fill up, methane is being generated, a known contributor to climate changes and global warming. In addition, the resources that are being used to produce, process, transport, prepare, store, and dispose of wasted food, are ones that could be used towards other uses that would have a greater benefit on our society. As these impacts add up, our country is noticing how big this problem truly is.

In response to this problem, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030. What does this mean for restaurants? It’s time to take action to reduce food waste! Not just for the sake of the national goal of reduction, but also for your own sake of saving your business the increasing amounts of money that is being spent on food that just goes to waste. Here are some tips that you can implement is your restaurant to combat this growing concern.

Track Your Food Waste

The first step to controlling food waste is to figure out how much food you’re actually wasting.  If you’re unsure of how much food waste your restaurant produces, institute a process to track your food waste for a week. Ask all staff to document what percentage or amount of food that they throw away before it hits the trash. With this data, make a plan to minimize that waste with the considerations below.

 Join the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge is a program that the USDA and the EPA launched in June of 2013. This program challenges “entities across the food chain”, restaurants included, to join efforts to reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. By joining, entities demonstrate their commitment to take action to reduce food waste for free. You are just asked to document ways that your restaurant will reduce food waste in the next year and follow through on that list.   To join the Food Waste Challenge, click here.

Proper storage

When storing foods, we all know how important temperature control is. Best practices for temperature control are twofold: frequent checking and documentation of your cooler and freezer thermometers in addition to making sure they are at the required temperatures. Coolers should remain at 41 degrees Fahrenheit for proper storage and freezers should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, not all foods need to be put in the cooler or freezer. For those items that do not, storage considerations should involve standard food containers and food packaging wrap. The more proper you are about storage, the longer it will last, and the less you will have to throw away.

Labeling paired with a “first in, first out” policy

Labeling is a key part to food storage. Not only because your staff needs to know what each container or box holds, but also so they know which foods to use first. Using the “first in, first out” policy means that you are storing newer products behind the older ones, therefore using the older products in the front first. Monitoring your staff is the key to this policy because even if you train them to pull down the older products first, it is likely that it will be tempting for them to grab a newer or fresher product in the back.

Portion control

The portions you serve to your customers are in direct correlation to your food waste. Plates full of food are often destined for the trash can because it’s just too much to eat. Consider offering smaller portions of your foods and make sure that the portions remain consistent.  We suggest that you have your staff measure each portion that they make and serve. Not only will this help with waste, but it will also help to reduce your food costs. In addition, consider adding half-portions of meals already on your menu at a lower price in order to avoid the excess food landing in the trash.

Smart purchasing

Since over-purchasing of perishable items is a big problem when it comes to food waste, it’s important to buy smart. Smart buying encompasses taking regular counts of your inventory, inspecting foods upon arrival with the non-acceptance of items that are spoiled, and consistency with inventory tracking. Add to this the fact that you should only buy what you need. Use your inventory tracking system to identify trends in purchasing. Once those trends are identified, you can let them lead the way to successful ordering that keeps money in your register.

Other general tips

In addition to the tips listed above, please find below some other general tips that might help you in reducing food waste.

  • If you find you have perishable items that will be soon to spoil, add menu items that include that item into your daily or weekly specials
  • Institute creative ways to re-use food like turning bread into croutons or using vegetables and meats in soups
  • Encourage employees to take home foods that you will only end up throwing away at the end of the day or night
  • Donate food that you will not use to families in need. There are federal laws that encourage food donation and offer tax deductions as well as protection from liability if a donation causes illness or injury. Many organizations exist that collect and distribute food donations to those who need it. For a listing of laws in place or organizations to donate to, click here.
  • Always offer take home containers to your customers for any foods that might still be on their plate. Offer containers that are microwave safe and re-usable to encourage an easy heat up and less waste.
  • Use refillable bottles, dishes, or containers for condiments instead of the single packs. Set these items on each table so that customers use only what they need.   If you are using the single packs, avoid putting them out where customers can grab them. They will likely grab more than what they need and throw away the unused packs in the trash.
  • Reduce the amount of bread and rolls that are offered before each meal and/or reduce the size of appetizers that you offer. These foods tend to fill customers up thus contributing to the possibility of having more food left over from the main dish.
  • Purchase a commercial vacuum sealer to keep your foods as fresh as possible for as long as possible

Regardless of the steps you decide to implement, taking action against food waste is an important part of creating a solution to this growing problem. Simple steps in the regular routine and daily processes within your restaurant will serve a huge benefit to your wallet as well as have a positive impact on society and the environment. That’s what you call a “win, win” situation.