Producing the food we eat takes significant resources (land, energy and water to name a few), the costs of which are all reflected in the price we pay, even wholesale. Yet statistics suggest that almost one third of the total food produced globally is lost or wasted – or the equivalent of 15 billion meals per year just in the UK. (According to WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action programme, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter after China and the USA).
Apart from the environment costs, reducing the food waste we generate can have a positive impact on the financial health of our businesses. It’s not always easy in the busy, pressured environments that are typical of catering and hospitality but here are some points to reflect on to check that your business is doing all it can.
Most food waste in catering can be attributed to the expiration of ingredients. Therefore, clearly labelling items with what they are, how they should be stored and with their use-by dates can be a big help. It can be helpful to label shelves, too, so all staff know where to find things (so they will use up what is already open before starting a new one). However often you remind your staff to use the items closest to expiry first, if those dates are really obvious, they are harder to miss.
It might also be worth reminding your staff that there is a difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. The ‘use by’ relates directly to food safety whereas the ‘best before’ is an indication of when the product’s quality is better. If you want a refresher on these, The Food Standards Agency advice is here:
Find WRAP’s labelling guidance here:
Now is probably a good moment to remind you to regularly monitor the temperatures of your fridges and freezers. Items will keep more safely at the correct temperatures.
Manage your stock
Once items are clearly labelled, you are in a better position to keep track of your stock, and to have a surplus stock strategy if you need one. Whether you use technology, like an inventory management system, or simply employ a ‘first in, first out’ practice in your kitchen, make sure all your staff know how it works. Simple things like putting new items on the shelf behind older items can make a big difference.
Measure your usage
Monitoring how much you buy and how much you use are key pieces of information in reducing food waste. If you have an inventory management system it may well do that for you but something as simple as a log book can record the same information. Review your records regularly to see if there are any items which are ordered more often than seems appropriate.
If you want some help doing this, WRAP have produced this handy Food Waste Reduction toolkit:
Review your menus
Regularly reviewing your menu will do a number of things; it is the opportunity to review:
– which meals generate more waste than others – can you change that?
– which meals are more popular at different times of year, so you can better plan for them. We all know that the seasonality of different food items can influence their price.
– if your portion control/standardised recipes are working effectively (and perhaps test different portion sizes with your customers so you’re not over-loading their plates).
– if there is an opportunity to use up surplus stock with special dishes.
Many hospitality venues also choose to donate leftover food to local food banks, charities or shelters. Food insecurity is a very topical issue so anything any of us can do to help is very welcome. The updated “Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice Catering Guide” (which we referred to in our last article https://www.ghtrainingsolutions.co.uk/guide-to-good-hygiene-practice/) specifically states that
“Redistributing food that cannot be commercially used to those who can use it is good for the environment as well as your local community. There are no different or additional legal requirements specifically for food donations.” (page 51)
And, we would say this wouldn’t we, but staff training has got to be the linchpin of any food waste reduction plan. If all your staff understand why you’re doing it (for the planet, not just the cost) and know how to do it safely, the vast majority will be only too happy to do their bit.
Signing up for WRAP’s ‘Guardians of Grub’ initiative would be a great way to signal to both your staff and your customers that you’re committed to reducing food waste https://wrap.org.uk/taking-action/food-drink/initiatives/guardians-grub
Academy Training Manager
Rod Carver - Level 3 Food Safety Attendee