Taking Out the Trash - A Guide to Reducing Food Waste: Part I

Running a foodservice operation requires a lot of thinking about the food you make; ingredients have to be ordered on time, everything has to be prepared correctly, and you have a staff to manage amidst a world of other concerns. But just as important as the making of the food is what happens to it when it's not used or eaten; in just a year's time, one restaurant is capable of producing between 25,000 and 75,000 lbs. of food waste. When you think of how many foodservice operations exist in the U.S. and the combined financial and environmental tolls that implies, that becomes a particularly sobering number.

And your customers care - according to a study by Unilever, 72 % of U.S. diners said that they care about how food waste is handled and 47% are concerned enough that they would be willing to spend more money to eat at a place that actively tries to reduce its food waste production.

All in all, it makes for some compelling reasons to look at just how much food is leaving your kitchen in the trash can.

Conducting a Waste Audit

According to waste reduction software company LeanPath, Inc., 4-10% of food purchased is wasted before it even goes out to the customer's table. To put that in more concrete terms, for every $1 million that gets spent on food, between $40,000 and $100,000 is wasted. This pre-consumer waste is the easiest target for waste reduction programs because you as the foodservice operator have the most control over it, which is where the auditing process comes in.

The primary goal of a waste audit is to identify where your operation's waste comes from, and to correct it. There are several ways to do this, the most basic being a food log system; a simple sheet provides a way for your staff to keep track of what's being thrown out, why it's being thrown out, and how much is wasted. Or, as an alternative, there are waste tracking systems like ValuWaste, which uses a specially designed scale with touch screen terminal and computer software to track how much food you're throwing out, without the hassle of a pencil and paper.

Also be sure to keep a second log system for post-consumer waste (food that is purchased, but not consumed by the customer). This type of waste is much more difficult to control because, ultimately, if that toddler at table 3 doesn't want the broccoli his mom ordered for him, odds are good you're probably going to get it back, untouched, when they leave. Still, it's well worth evaluating what is being thrown out and how much this amounts to; gathering as much data as feasibly possible will only help you when it comes time to evaluate the results and make changes to how your operation handles food waste, which we'll discuss in part II of this blog!

Posted in: Consumables | By Jacob King
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