Do You Know Your Food Waste?

Did you know that the average restaurant in one year creates more than 50 tons of food waste?

Talk to any restaurant owner, and you will likely find that food waste is one of the top concerns when it comes to revenue loss.   A 2013 study conducted by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), on behalf of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, indicated that more than 84 percent of the food waste generated by surveyed U.S. restaurants ended up in the landfill.  Only 1.4 percent was donated, while 14.3 percent was recycled, and most of that was reclaimed as cooking oil.  On average, that translates to 15.7 percent food loss across the industry, or 3.3 pounds of food waste per $1,000 of company revenue.

Reducing waste makes good business sense for a restaurant.  The first step in reducing waste is to measure and track the amount, type, and source of the food and packaging waste.  Maintenance of a daily waste logbook can help food establishments (1) save money by reducing over-purchasing and disposal costs, (2) lessen environmental impacts, (3) support efforts to eliminate hunger, and (4) increase tax benefits by donating food.  It would be best to assemble a team of employees who prepare the meals (because they are familiar with the amounts of ingredients used in the dishes) and clean the dishes (because they are familiar with the type and quantity of food left over by guests).

Pre-consumer kitchen waste, which could be caused by incorrectly prepared food, spoiled food, trim waste, or simply overproduction, constitutes an estimated 4-10% of purchased food, and becomes waste before it ever reaches the table.  There are solutions for reducing this portion of food waste, such as donating to a food bank and creative re-use of certain foods (e.g., making day old bread into croutons).

Post-consumer waste after the meal relies heavily on consumer preference.  Some people take home a doggy bag and others send it back to the kitchen trash.  Garbage left over after dining represents the food not eaten, as well as disposable packaging such as plastic plates and cups.  Promotion of extra-large servings of food has been used as a marketing gimmick in the United States, and has backfired, leading to increased food waste.

In the kitchen, the easiest way to sort waste is by using different containers.  Categories may include meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, glass, paper and plastic.  A large number of categories provides a clear picture of the type and quantity of waste and brings more recycling options.  The sorted waste should be measured at the end of each working shift, to compare how much food a restaurant sells and how much food is wasted.

Action items to reduce food waste

  • Identify the restaurant menu items that have the most leftovers, and consider reducing the portion size of these menu items to reduce waste and food cost. In addition, purchase ingredients in smaller packages if you are not using the inventory timely.
  • Conduct inventory in the restaurant on a regular basis so that you can identify the need for new purchases in due time – not too soon and not too late.
  • Purchase high-quality kitchen equipment such as specialized knives that can help to lower food waste when peeling fruits and vegetables, or cutting meat and filleting fish.
  • Invest in new dinner service; plates and glasses with smaller volumes will reduce portions.
  • Handle fruits and vegetables properly by cleaning them and storing them in a suitable container to extend their lives.
  • Rotate the food in the refrigerator and warehouse on a regular basis; set the foods that should be used first in front of the food that is newly stored.
  • Encourage your local restaurant to sell half portions of food if the serving size is too big.
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How to Use the Waste Logbook

Pre-Consumer Food Waste should be tracked every day.

  1. Track pre-consumer food waste at the time of discard. Record waste on the logbook immediately prior to placing it in the trash, compost or garbage disposer.
  2. If donating food to a food bank, record all food donations on the waste logbook immediately prior to donation.
  3. Record the type of food and the reason why it is being discarded on the logbook. These are the two most important pieces of information that will reveal opportunities for change.
  4. Record how much is being wasted according to weight or portions.
  5. Chefs and Managers should review the prior day’s waste logbook at the beginning of the following day’s shift.
  6. The Top 5 waste items should be discussed with the kitchen team at a pre-shift meeting. Ask the team for ideas to reduce those items.
  7. Review progress on the Top 5 items every week until the amounts drop.

 Post-Consumer Food Waste should be tracked once a month.

  1. Use a logbook to track the total weight of the trash (or another standardized metric such as number of trash cans or number of trash bags).
  2. Keep a record of total weight or count of post-consumer food waste in an Excel sheet or automated tracking system.
  3. When measuring post-consumer waste, always do so on a busy day and track subsequent measurements on the same day of the week. With this approach, you will have comparable data.
  4. Make sure to look at the food in the garbage and note any trends. There may be items that customers do not like which should be removed from the menu. In other cases, you may find portions need to be adjusted to avoid waste.


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