We talk more and more often about food waste and the serious consequences it can have not only ethically and economically, but also environmentally. In order to produce the food that is thrown away, resources are consumed, land is eroded, greenhouse gases are emitted and air is polluted by transport.
Unfortunately, the figures are not good: UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, estimates that one third of the food produced in the world is lost (spoiled) or wasted every year.
If we focus our gaze on Europe, the situation does not change. According to a recent Eurostat analysis, each EU inhabitant ‘wasted’ 131kg of food in 2021. The catering industry contributes 9% (around 12kg) of this figure, a low but not insignificant percentage.
What are the most common causes and how can they be avoided or – at least – reduced?
The main causes of food waste in restaurants
One of the main factors contributing to food waste in restaurants is the excessive amount of food served or prepared. Restaurateurs often overestimate the amount of food needed to satisfy customers or do not calculate the appropriate portions correctly. This leads to a build-up of leftovers, which are eventually thrown away.
In addition to this, there are problems with inventory and storage: excess raw materials are purchased, due to incorrect planning, or are not stored properly. In both cases, the negative economic implication is obvious.
Strategies to reduce food waste in restaurants
Reducing waste is an ongoing process, requiring a collective effort in many ways. However, some strategies can help, especially in the long run:
Food cost calculation
An important first step in the fight against food waste is an accurate food cost analysis, a precise calculation that shows us immediately whether a high percentage of ingredients is being wasted, helping to promote a more sustainable management of the business.
Constantly analysing the flow of customers and verifying the orders placed is crucial for optimal stock management. In addition, defining operational standards that include how dishes are prepared helps to reduce not only waste, but also discards.
As mentioned above, wastage is often a consequence of incorrect or simply sub-optimal storage. The blast chiller is an infallible ally in this respect: positive chilling and negative chilling produce a thermal shock that prevents bacterial proliferation and increases the shelf life of products.
All without compromising the organoleptic characteristics of the food or preparation.
Reuse of leftovers
In zero waste culture, nothing is thrown away or – at least – we try to do so as little as possible. Leftovers can be reused to create new sustainable dishes, or simply frozen for use on the next day without loss of quality. Here again, the blast chiller is essential to maintain the quality and taste of the food.
Raising customer awareness
The so-called ‘doggy bag’, the habit of taking home the leftovers of one’s dish at a restaurant, is an overseas practice that has now also become customary in Europe. For the restaurateur, this action can also be transformed into an advertising opportunity, for example by branding the containers to take home (as pizzerias and pastry shops have been doing for some time), and communicating, for example on social media, their attention to sustainability.
Food donations and other initiatives
One practice that is gaining popularity is food donation. Restaurants can partner with local organisations or food banks to donate unused but still consumable food to those in need. This solution not only reduces food waste, but also helps those in need.
In addition to this, there are also many apps that make it possible to sell leftovers at a discounted price at the end of the day: a method that may not be practical for restaurants, given their closing times, but which is increasingly being adopted by other businesses in the sector, from bakeries to self-service restaurants.
Food waste is an urgent challenge for restaurants, but it can be successfully addressed through changes in mindset, technological upgrades and conscious practices.