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How to Minimize Food Waste in Commercial Kitchens

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Try these tips to cut unnecessary expenses and help the environment.
By Jim Shaw April 2017 Vendor Bylines

Food waste has always been an issue in kitchens of all sizes. It is, however, seen a lot more in commercial kitchens where there are high volumes of food. Commercial kitchens have many stations that focus on different types of food, which means different ways of preparing food and ultimately should minimize food waste. But that is not the case.

What Is Food Waste?

The first step in cutting down on how much food gets thrown away is to define food waste. It is food that can be used again or is sent to landfills. In the United States, about 30 to 40 percent of food is unnecessarily wasted. This food is thrown out because it looks weird, it was not eaten during a meal, or it was unused and began to rot.

This equates to about 20 pounds of wasted food per person per month, and about $1,000 that is wasted in a year per average four-person family. Commercial kitchens can do their part to minimize waste and create an environment that reduces the waste that ends up in landfills.

Ordering Food

Commercial kitchens should pay attention to the type and amount of food that is coming into the kitchen. It is easy and makes sense to buy a lot of food at once and stock up so orders don’t have to be placed as frequently. While this may be convenient and initially thrifty, it is not the greatest way to reduce waste.

Food, especially produce and perishables, does not last as long as other non-perishable items, like canned goods. For example, buying a lot of apples may be cheaper and seem like the financially savvy option, but in reality, not all the apples are used, and a good portion of the order ends up going bad and ultimately being wasted.

Ask your vendor if you can receive the products in various stages of ripeness so you can take advantage of a sale or bulk ordering.

Additionally, inspect all orders as they arrive, and not just the food on top. If the food looks like it is spoiled or is close to spoiling, don’t accept the order.    

Take Stock and Use FIFO

Pay attention to your orders and how food should be stored to ensure the best quality and longest freshness. Food products should be stored in proper and well-labeled containers to reduce the chance of cross contamination. Using a first-in-first-out (FIFO) system for inventory will ensure older products are used first and less waste occurs.

Preparing Food

Proper portion control is one of the most important steps to minimizing food waste. Commercial kitchens often have scales to measure out the correct portion amount before sending meals out of the kitchen, or they use smaller plates. With proper serving portions, less food will be wasted.

Cross-contamination is one of the ways that food can become unusable during preparation. If raw meat is stored near vegetables or cooked meat in the fridge, bacteria from raw meat can get on vegetables or other foods, leading to unsafe consumption and food that must be thrown away.

Separating food storage areas and food preparation areas and using separate cutting boards and knives can help to prevent cross-contamination from occurring and lead to less waste during preparation.

Investing in high-quality kitchen equipment can impact on kitchen waste reduction. Using specialized knives, such as those for filleting fish, will result in less wasted product. These small differences can have a huge impact over time.  

Ensure your food is stored at the proper temperatures. Frozen foods should be stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and refrigerated foods at 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow prepared hot foods to cool before refrigeration to prevent spoilage.

Participate in Composting

Composting is a great method of reusing food parts that are used in cooking. Any part of raw vegetables can be composted, as well as stale bread, the skin of fruits, and egg shells. With composting, any food scraps can be put off to the side and later into a compost bin that will break down the scraps and turn it into a soil that can be used for gardening or taken to a compost plant where it will also be broken down and reused.

Recycle Menu Items

Most chefs and kitchen staff are creative and strongly dislike waste. When planning your menu, plan ahead. Leftover chicken breast can be made into a fricassee or pie. Apple garnishes into an apple sauce. Or, simply, create a temporary pricing special to move the menu item quickly and before it spoils.

Identify menu items with the most leftovers and remove them from your menu. Simply changing your menu may reduce food waste and lead to higher profits.   

Donate Leftover Food

Many restaurants, such as Panera Bread and the Darden Chain, donate leftover food to programs to help feed the hungry. Soup kitchens and shelters can accept food that has not expired, to be redistributed to households that need it or used to make meals in various shelters and kitchens. There are many organizations with missions to find and make connections between kitchens and shelters that can use leftover food.

Food Waste Logistics

When thinking about all the different ways your kitchen could reduce their food waste, it may seem overwhelming. Sometimes, it may not even seem worth it. It may be helpful to recruit a team of employees to volunteer for this particular program. This way, there is a group of people who are passionate about the process and can ensure wasted food in the kitchen is put good use elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

Minimizing food waste in commercial kitchens can seem daunting, especially given the pace of work, but taking control of your inventory, inspecting orders, storing products at the appropriate temperatures, using FIFO, as well as using your best judgment when planning menus, promotions, and serving portions should help to reduce kitchen spoilage. It will be difficult to eliminate waste food entirely, but composting and getting involved in humanitarian causes will keep your spoilage out of the landfill. 

Jim Shaw is the content manager at Digital-2000, a company passionate about the development and implementation of safety education tools for business and industry. Jim loves helping people and being in the businesses of utilizing video-based interventions in order to achieve goals and maximize results.