Last Updated on August 21, 2020
Food waste represents a missed opportunity in America. “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry,” said Pope Francis.
The U.S. food supply is the most varied and abundant in the world. In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. According to the global food loss report of the United Nations in 2011, the average American consumer wastes 10 times as much food as someone in Southeast Asia.
This number is up 50 percent from Americans in the 1970s. This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on society. As a culture, building a more complete picture of food waste and working out a practical scheme to combat it is desperately needed.
How Food Loss Occurs
Food waste occurs throughout the whole food system. Between the farm gate and retail level, losses result from severe weather, increased mechanization, and sub-par production practices. At the point where food leaves the farm and enters the food marketing system, some loss occurs in storage and transportation.
Public studies show that a typical food product is handled an average of 33 times before it is ever touched by a consumer in the supermarket. Food waste is possible at each point in this process.
However, the biggest waste of food happens at the plate level. Based on a recent report, half a pound of food is wasted per meal in restaurants. This waste can occur from what is left at the table or lost in the kitchen itself. From foods forgotten and spoiled in cold storage to uneaten vegetables tossed in the garbage, all unnoticed actions cause food waste.
U.S. restaurants generate a startling 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year. It is maybe a little too easy to identify restaurants as particularly wasteful. Kitchen culture and staff behavior such as over-preparation of food, failure to use food scraps, and unexpected fluctuations in food sales due to sudden changes in the weather all contribute to food loss.
What is the impact of solving food waste?
Successfully solving the food waste problem is a huge competitive advantage for restaurant managers. Some studies point out that food costs can represent 28% to 35% of sales in restaurants. Therefore, capturing pre-consumer food loss can offer a critical boost to profitability.
Solving this problem boosts not only the financial value of the restaurant but also its reputational value. Consumers are starting to consider food waste when choosing a restaurant. A study by Unilever revealed that 72% of U.S. diners care about how restaurants handle food waste.
Additionally, 47% would be willing to spend more to eat at a restaurant with an active food recovery program. To reduce waste saves money and attracts customers. It is indeed a win-win situation.
Compost, Culture, and Technology: practical ways to reduce food waste
- Creating minimum food waste culture
Having a balanced relationship between awareness and economic efficiency is essential for developing culture change. To start creating this positive culture, educate your staff with adequate practical training. For example, train all-new culinary team members in optimizing food preparation and specific portion sizes.
Repeat this message often, and train others to repeat it. This is how culture is created. Use competition or other incentives to help. Who can think of the most creative way to reduce food waste?
- Getting back to the dirt and composting
Many farmers mitigate harvesting losses by using leftover crops as fertilizer or animal feed. But by and large, most restaurant food trash will go to landfills. This has a huge impact on our globe.
Food in landfills can release methane, which is connected to climate change. Composting, as farmers know, is one way to combat this. There are several ways to compost to reduce throwing food out.
Countertop composting, indoor composting or freezing composting are suitable ways to compost when your restaurant has only limited space in urban places. What kind of food scraps can be composted? Vegetable, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, dead plants, eggshells and many other types of food scraps.
- Getting a powerful push from technology
Technology is finding its place in reducing food waste. At a Boston Market restaurant in San Francisco, the assistant manager uses a computer program to reduce wasted food. He tracks the sales of every menu item on an hourly basis and sets cooking schedules.
Consulting a computer printout, he can determine how much chicken to cook and when to put it into the rotisserie to be served at a given time. This is a powerful tool against food waste.
Another common scenario in the future will be using software systems that go beyond simple inventory management. These systems will link demand forecasting with menu plans and recipe ingredient quantities. This magic can effectively reduce the amount of food that goes unused and minimize overproduction, thereby increasing savings.
So in some circumstances, digitalized solutions for your kitchen operations can be a useful investment to help you plan even more precisely.
There’s no question that training staff, food composting, or adopting new technology requires both time and money. But, you are saving raw materials as well as trash collections. It will be worth it when the investment pays off surprisingly quickly in the future.