December 20, 2018

Fighting food waste in your kitchen

Food waste is a persistent issue not only for the restaurant industry, but for food service businesses, supermarkets and nearly every other type of organization that sells, transports or otherwise interacts with food. Managing food waste in a kitchen, whether your own or your employer’s, provides some major benefits. Two of the most important are reduction in environmental impact and lowered costs. Avoiding unnecessary waste doesn’t just help put ingredients to good use instead of throwing them away, it can also reduce spending on everything from shelf-stable ingredients to fresh protein and vegetables. Considering that restaurants waste 11 million tons of food annually, according to nonprofit ReFED and reported in industry magazine Restaurant Hospitality, there’s plenty of room to improve.

Let’s look at how Boulder culinary school students can address food waste in their kitchens.

An assortment of produce arranged in a circle and organized by color.Fighting food waste is an admirable goal that can be reached through a number of practical steps.

Simple ways to cut food waste

One of the easiest ways to start fighting food waste in the short term is to assess the current menu, methods of preparation, use of individual ingredients and inventory and storage procedures:

  • Current menu: Is ordering aligned with the relative popularity of each dish on the menu? Are there opportunities to scale down ordering for low-performing items, or eliminate dishes that tend to create waste? What opportunities exist to repurpose ingredients for soups, appetizers and specials?
  • Methods of preparation: Are current tools and processes as efficient as they can be? Do old or less-effective tools and workflows create waste, and could they be avoided with a slightly different set of instructions, recipe or piece of equipment?
  • Individual ingredients: Do certain ingredients only appear in one or two dishes and are they frequently wasted? Could they be incorporated into other menu items, replaced with something shelf stable or more widespread on the menu, or eliminated entirely?
  • Storage procedures: Are back-of-house staff diligent about following procedures like first-in, first-out and properly storing perishable items? 

Recycling and composting

Recycling and composting both help address an important nuance of waste reduction that can be overlooked in the rush toward action: Waste is inevitably created in kitchens, but how it’s disposed of can significantly mitigate environmental impact. Composting involves wet organic matter, also called green waste, which can range from paper towels to inedible plant material and food scraps, breaking down over time and turning into a fertilizer that can be used on soil. Recycling, a more generally familiar concept, separates materials from the waste stream that can be broken down, reconstituted and reused in a variety of applications.

Recycling is increasingly common on the municipal level: Many cities have either a requirement to recycle or at least options for having such recyclable material collected. Composting hasn’t reached that level in many areas, but there are a growing number of businesses that offer composting container drop-off and pickup services, as well as low- and no-cost community and individual composting options. While it requires some legwork, restaurants can reach out to community gardens, local farms and similar organizations to see if there’s a mutually agreeable approach for collecting and using compost. Eateries that have their own gardens and a little bit of extra space can use a composting container and enjoy the benefits that this waste-driven product provides, from fertilization to pest repelling properties.

More in-depth efforts

The National Restaurant Association’s work with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance and ReFED helped to create two detailed guides to reducing food waste, one for the restaurant industry and a second specifically focused on food service. To go deeper on this important topic, check out the guide that has the most relevance to your desired or current role.