Nearly 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted, published reports indicate. It’s a massive problem, says Andrew Shakman, founder and CEO of LeanPath, which helps restaurateurs track and minimize food waste.
Restaurants deal with two waste streams, Shakman notes. Pre-consumer food waste includes overproduced, spoiled or expired items, trimmings, and materials dropped, burned or contaminated. Post-consumer waste is the food that’s left on guests’ plates after the meal. Shakman says restaurateurs can have an impact on food waste only by managing both.
A member of the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Sustainability Advisory Council, Shakman debunks five myths about food waste:
Our restaurant doesn’t waste food. The truth is every kitchen wastes food. You need to figure out what’s causing it. It could be overproduction: You may make more than you need so you don’t risk running out. Shakman encourages restaurateurs to take a risk and prepare less. He also says restaurateurs tend to over-merchandise. “We pile high the produce so it is beautifully lit and positioned,” but there are other ways to make food look appetizing, including using different heights or grouping food items.
Talking about food waste will make restaurants look bad. “A lot of chefs carry around stress and guilt and worry that they’ll be perceived negatively for throwing away food. But everyone has waste. It’s not one chef’s doing or an indicator of poor performance. Even the best operations have food waste, but they recognize and talk about it.”
Tracking food waste is hard. Measuring food waste is quicker and easier than people think, he says. “If you use automation, you can track it in less than a minute per employee per day.” It takes less than 15 minutes a week for a chef or manager to review food-waste data with his or her team, Shakman notes. “When you show your team the end result, they want to do the right thing.” But don’t stop at collecting data. “Figure out why you’re wasting the food and then adjust your production. That’s the change we want to make. If you do that there will be a sea change in our industry.”
My team is too busy dealing with other things. You’re underestimating your team if you think your staff can’t make a difference, he says. “Motivate them and they will respond. You can provide bonus incentives or give recognition and positive reinforcement to those who reduce waste.” Position it as a moral issue because people inherently care about waste. “They don’t want to waste food and would like to set a good example, especially for children.”
We compost, so we’re already doing our part. A recent Johns Hopkins study found four out of 10 kitchen employees at foodservice operations composting organic waste said they didn’t worry about food waste because their restaurants were already doing the right thing. “If we focus on composting to the exclusion of all else, we are missing upside opportunities,” he says. “Here’s an analogy: If you have a pipe that bursts, do you get a mop and bucket or do you turn off the water? I would start by turning off the water. That’s exactly what we have to do with food waste. We have to prevent it.”
The NRA’s Conserve program offers tips, tools and best practices for operators looking to practice sustainability at their restaurants. For more information on LeanPath, go here.
Pictured, from top right: Andrew Shakman; a restaurant employee source separating organic material; container of kitchen food waste