5 Ways to Reduce Waste in Your Operation

Traditionally, preventing waste—never mind tackling environmental and social justice issues—was not part of foodservice operations. Yet increasingly, diners are asking culinary professionals to make decisions that impact their health, the environment, and ultimately, our collective food future. The International Food Information Council’s 2018 Food & Health Survey reported that six in 10 consumers say it is important that the food they purchase or consume is produced sustainably. From straw bans to technological enhancements, here are some of the innovative ways foodservice operations manage their waste streams.


  1. Partner with a Food Rescue Organization
    Nearly 40 million people in the U.S.—including 12 million children—struggle with food insecurity. For an increasing number of foodservice operators, reducing food waste begins with donating unused food to people who need it most. In 2018, Stanford University partnered with Silicon Valley Food Rescue to do just that. Using a mobile food distribution model named “A La Carte,” a team of drivers trained in food safety gather food from local corporate and university campuses and deliver it to food-insecure communities via a sleek food truck. This provides a convenient and dignified experience for recipients and maximizes impact in high-density areas.

  2. Use Food Waste As a Star Ingredient
    Don’t toss those orange peels, scallion ends, and overripe fruits and veggies. They can be repurposed in products like citrus vinegars or pestos. They can also be dehydrated and ground into flavor-packed powdered seasonings. You might even consider creating a signature dish that highlights how your organization is tackling food waste. At the University of Connecticut in Storrs, “Tater Tumblers”—tots with a filling of mashed potatoes, veggie scraps and leftovers like ham and shredded cheese from the omelet bar—are served with dipping sauce. Students love them, and the popular dish helps keep food costs low.

  3. Start a Composting Program
    According to sustainablefoodservice.com, 50-70 percent of a foodservice operation’s garbage consists of compostable items. Organizations like the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition help schools, businesses and other organizations prevent food waste through composting initiatives, giving scraps a second life as nutrient-rich soil. Correctional institutions can also be a powerful place to institute social and environmental change. In 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Prisons won the state Environmental Protection Agency's Food Recovery Challenge Award for their composting program, which is an integral part of their urban land care vocational training program.

  4. Ditch the Straws and Prepackaged Cutlery
    Every year, Americans purchase 50 billion plastic water bottles and throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups. Sadly, a full 32 percent of all plastic packaging ends up in our nation’s waterways. According to the National Park Service, Americans use 500 million straws every day. Many U.S. cities have officially banned straws in restaurants—which is a start— but there are simple ways to reduce plastics and make even bigger impacts in your foodservice operation. For example, Oak Park School District 97 near Chicago went a step further and diverted 63,000 plastic wrappers from the landfill in a two-month period simply by unbundling single-use plastic silverware packets and offering individual, unwrapped cutlery instead. You can also cut down on waste by implementing a reusable to-go container program, buying in bulk for items like condiments, or eliminating Styrofoam from your operation.

  5. Use Technology to Slash Waste
    Tackling food waste isn’t just a “feel good” issue—savvy foodservice operators know it improves the profitability of their operation as well. Waste tracking and analytics tools like Leanpath allow managers to easily and instantly see the financial and environmental impact of food waste so they can educate staff in real time. Waste tracking and analytics tools can also help operators identify how various foods are used to inform both daily and long-term operational changes and investments. The end result? A more streamlined operation with increased profit margins and less wasted product.

Reducing foodservice waste means lower costs and increased profit margins, better care for the environment, and feeding those who need a meal—a rare triple win for foodservice providers. “Consumers increasingly want to see the brands and institutions they support making an effort to lead the way to a more sustainable future,” says chef Alison Mountford, founder and CEO of Ends + Stems, a food waste reduction platform. “When consumers, students, and employees witness the efforts and delicious side effects that result, they will take these lessons and think about them in their own kitchens. This is how we start to see the culture around needless waste change, and it’s how we'll make a real impact together.”

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