10 methods for reducing food waste in your kitchen
1. Perform a food waste audit
When trying to tackle the complex problem of reducing food waste in your kitchen, it makes sense to audit the problem so that you know which areas to focus on. A food waste audit will help you understand how much food your restaurant is throwing away and at what stage in the process the waste occurs. There are two main ways to conduct a food wastage audit:
Use a template from the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard
The Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard (FLW) is a global organisation that has established a universal standard for reporting food waste and quantifying its impact. An FLW-approved food waste audit template gives you a clear understanding of your food wastage and allows you to contribute your findings to global data on food waste.
Conduct your own audit
Of course, you can conduct your own food waste audit without relying on a standardised structure. To make sure your results are accurate, you need to establish a system for how you're going to weigh waste bins and record your results.
A simple food waste audit should go as follows:
- Label three separate bins for the collection of waste from storage, waste from preparation, and waste from customers (plate waste).
- Weigh each bin at the end of the day and record how many customers you served.
- Compare the weight of each bin with how busy your restaurant was.
No matter how you conduct your audit, the insight you get from it will let you know which waste reduction strategies to focus on. An audit also allows you to see how you stack up against other restaurants when it comes to waste reduction.
One of the benefits of a comprehensive food waste audit is that it inspires both staff and management to think about ways to waste less food. Both your front of house staff and kitchen staff interact with food waste and can offer valuable insight into how you can address the issue.
2. Use the FIFO system
The FIFO (first-in, first-out) system helps you to reduce the amount of food spoilage in your kitchen by organising inventory so that the oldest stock is used first. For example, if you received a shipment of fruits and vegetables on Wednesday and another on Friday, the FIFO method requires you to use all the produce from Wednesday's shipment before you touch Friday's.
Learn more about the FIFO System here.
3. Practice temperature control
Adequately controlling the temperature at which you store food is key to preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, and consequently, preventing food spoilage. Food needs to be cooled and heated at the correct temperatures to ensure its longevity and safe use in meal preparation.
Use digital temperature probes to record the temperatures stock is brought in and avoid storing perishable goods in the danger zone of 5 – 65 °C where bacteria grows quickest. Make sure both you and your staff are trained on best practises when it comes to managing hot food displays, heating cold food, cooling cooked ingredients, and more.
4. Don't overbuy stock
It's hard for your inventory to spoil if you're always using 100% of it each week. The more precise you can be with ordering, the less chance there is of inventory sitting in a storeroom, spoiling, and then being thrown out. Work with your team to see if there are opportunities to be more efficient with ordering so that you're not buying more than you need. Keep in mind; while it can be tempting to take advantage of bulk ordering discounts, you won't save any money if you're forced to throw away the ingredients due to spoilage.
Adopting inventory management software is a great way for you to easily track all your stock as it moves through your kitchen. With the ability to view your entire inventory system in one place, you can quickly identify inefficiencies and minimise food waste.
5. Reduce portion sizes
While large portion sizes can make customers feel like they're getting more value for money, a lot of this extra food ends up in the bin as plate waste. If you're noticing that certain dishes are frequently left unfinished by customers, experiment with offering smaller portions. Customers who clean their plate will feel more satisfied with their dining experience and won't feel guilty about leaving wasted food behind. Alternatively, give customers several portions size options to choose from so they can pick what suits their appetite and have less food thrown away.
6. Use imperfect fruits and vegetables
Misshapen or 'ugly' fruit and vegetables are often discarded simply because of their aesthetic appearance, but many are perfectly useable in cooking. It's estimated that at least 35%1 of off-spec produce is suitable for foodservice applications and can be rescued from farms in a safe and cost-efficient manner.
7. Enhance cross-utilisation of ingredients
Another way to reduce food waste in your kitchen (and save money) is to stretch the use of certain ingredients by using them across multiple menu items. This will help you get more out of each stock item you order and reduce the chances of anything being thrown away due to exceeding best before dates.
8. Reuse preparation scraps and excess
Think about ways that food scraps and excess created during meal preparation can be used. For example, potato skins can be deep-fried and served as a snack, and excess cooked chicken breast can be repurposed in a salad.
9. Encourage customers to take leftovers home
Make it easy for your customers to take leftover food home with them by stocking low-impact containers and making it clear that it's no inconvenience for your staff. While not every customer will want to take leftovers home, making it easier for those who do can significantly reduce the amount of plate waste your restaurant creates.
10. Donate leftovers to charity
A great way to reduce food waste is to donate leftovers to a charity that redistributes edible food to those in need, rather than allowing it to end up in the bin. Search for food donation charities that operate near you and see if you can organise regular collections.
Why reducing food waste should be a priority for your business
When food ends up rotting in a landfill, it creates greenhouse gas emissions (methane) that contribute directly to climate change. Not only does letting edible food rot diminish the ozone layer, but it also represents a waste of resources like water and energy that were used to create it.
The majority (83%)2 of consumers believe that reducing food waste is important, and it's clear that more and more of the public are adopting a sustainability mindset which informs where they spend their time and money. As a foodservice operator, you can't afford to ignore the issue of food waste and risk falling behind the curve.
Undertaking initiatives to reduce waste in your kitchen also simply makes fiscal sense, as every scrap thrown away represents money lost. If you want to run the most efficient and profitable kitchen you can, then combatting food waste should be one of your top priorities.
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(1): A Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste by 20% (2016).
(2): Datassential, Personal Values & Food (2018).