Foodservice operations throw away 4%-10% of food before ever reaching a guest, prompting the National Restaurant Association and LeanPath to offer tips for tracking and controlling food waste.
Nationwide, restaurants throw away millions of pounds of food each day, with 4%-10% of food purchased by a restaurant or foodservice operation discarded before ever reaching a guest, according to LeanPath, a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in food waste prevention.
As a result, restaurants are placing increased attention on food waste management to reign in costs. The topic even ranked among the top food trends for 2016, according to the annual “What’s Hot” chefs’ survey, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) reported.
The first step in reducing food waste is measuring and tracking what’s being thrown away, said Andrew Shakman, CEO of LeanPath, which offers automated food waste monitoring systems. The company’s clients typically slash their waste in half, cutting their food cost purchases two to six percent, according to Shakman.
“Measurement brings awareness and drives change,” Shakman said, suggesting that foodservice operators record why each item is trashed, such as prep waste or cooking errors, so they can identify problem areas and training gaps, the NRA reported.
After more than 10 years of helping restaurants reduce waste, Shakman has found that most pre-consumer food waste is due to four factors:
Striving to prepare for variable crowds, restaurants often end up prepping and cooking more than needed and then trashing the leftovers. To prevent overproduction, Shakman recommended reviewing the forecasting process and scaling recipes for the demand. Factor in the weather, the day of the week and sales during similar types of prior events. Note which menu items sell better under various conditions and use the information to guide planning.
“Make sure that the team is producing to the plan that is established,” Shakman said. Select packaging sizes that make sense for the output. You’ll get a better unit price for a bigger package, but those savings will be wasted if a large portion of the product is discarded.
To match demand as closely as possible and, in turn, lessen food expiration, consider whipping up smaller batches. “Resist the temptation to produce to calm nerves; produce in small batches,” Shakman advised.
Find ways to incorporate leftovers into a future dish, always keeping food safety in mind. Only use items that have not been exposed to customers and that can be chilled and stored safely. The NRA’s ServSafe program can help train the team on how to safely hold, store and reheat leftovers.
Watch out for ingredients spoiling before you they can be utilized. Train staff on the first-in, first-out (FIFO) storage method. Store new items behind those already in stock to help ensure that the older products get used first. Also, review receiving procedures, the NRA reported.
“Check deliveries to make sure items are in the right condition when they arrive,” Shakman said. Promptly store items in the correct conditions.
Confirm the team isn’t trimming more than needed from produce and meats. Explore whether necessary trimmings can be incorporated into other recipes like soups and salads. Creative chefs have transformed leftover Swiss chard stems and torn-off carrot tops into culinary delights. If the menu doesn’t fit this approach, consider whether precut items are more affordable when actual yield and labor costs are taken into account, Shakman said.
If you still have excess usable food after taking steps to reduce waste, consider donating it to the hungry. The NRA’s Conserve program offers tips on how to safely donate food to those in need.