How Can I Reduce Food Waste?
In this article, we answer the popular question “how can I reduce food waste” We outline four simple steps you can take to help reduce food waste in your business.
Did you know that according to Waste Resources and Action Programme (WRAP) research, the UK manufacturing and retail sector wastes 1.9 million tonnes of food and drink a year of which 1.1 million tonnes is avoidable? With the population of the world set to be in excess of 9.5 billion by the year, 2050 huge pressure will be placed on the earth’s resources to feed all of these people. By reducing the amount of food waste we produce we can help alleviate this pressure. Not only that, but think how much money businesses could save if these resources were better managed. The 1.1 million tonnes of food waste that is avoidable is estimated to be worth £1.9 billion!
WRAP advocates taking a four-step approach to reducing food waste within your business.
Step 1 - Identify the problem
In order to start saving money, you need to identify where you are losing it first! There is no point in putting in place an elaborate plan to save food waste from customers’ plates if your biggest inefficiency is in the procurement and storage of food.
Firstly calculate how much food you are currently wasting. Simply count how many bags of food waste are being thrown away. Many business owners think they have a rough idea of their waste, but when faced with the reality it is often a much larger problem than they had assumed. Once you have this figure, tell your staff! Ask them what sort of food is being thrown away and why. This must be approached in a positive way, if your staff think that you are blaming them or they are going to get into trouble the exercise will not work.
Start to monitor your waste more accurately. Split the waste into production stages that make sense for your type of business, for example in a restaurant you would look to break it down to storage waste, preparation waste and plate waste. This exercise should be carried out over a week or two to get a realistic picture of where the waste is generated. Typically food waste comes from 21% spoilage, 45% food preparation and 34% plate waste. Compare your figures, is this true for your business?
Step 2 - Come up with a plan
Once you have identified where your biggest waste area is, tackle this first. It may be a well-worn phrase, but make sure you set SMART goals and have a plan to follow. Set a realistic target for waste reduction then talk to staff and see if they have any ideas where you can make these savings. Your employees and managers need to be committed to making this work.
Food waste reduction starts in the planning stages. When compiling menus try and use ingredients that can be used in several dishes so if one option does not sell well the ingredient can be reused. Consider reducing the number of dishes on the menu and if certain items are less popular remove them. Similarly for retailers, if a product does not sell well then that is a good case for taking it off the shelves completely.
Ideas to reduce food waste at the storage phase include:
- Ordering on a just-in-time basis
- Stock rotation
- Make sure that fresh food is stored in optimum conditions to get the longest life out of it.
- Using tinned, bottled or frozen goods as an alternative to fresh
- Make sure everything is well labelled
- Make sure containers are airtight
When preparing food think about how creative you can be with trimmings as garnishes or bases for stocks and sauces. Bread is one of the most thrown away foodstuffs, use it up as breadcrumbs or croutons. Serve vegetables with the skins on and rather than trimming meats by ready prepared cuts instead. Your plan should focus on preventing food waste in the first place with recycling measures further down your list of priorities. Prevention will save you the most money. Make sure you look at the holistic costs as well. Buying pre-prepared meat may be slightly more expensive, but if you cannot use all of the cut and your employees have to take the time to prepare it then the actual cost may not be that much more expensive, if at all.
Step 3 - Taking Action
The next step is to put your plan in place. In order to do this, you will need to communicate the new measures to your staff. Not only that consider if they are able to carry out these actions. You may need to buy new equipment, in which case you may also need to carry out staff training. Make sure that staff are given plenty of support during the transition period by holding regular team meetings or having a suggestion scheme. Your initial plan may need modifications along the way, so try not to be too precious if changes are required!
Success is a great motivator, so when targets are reached or progress is going well do not forget to tell your staff and thank them for their efforts. If success is a great motivator, then rewards are even better! Consider starting an incentive scheme to recognise the efforts of individuals.
Step 4 - Measuring Savings
Finally, you must monitor the progress you are making. This will allow you to see if improvements really are being made or whether adjustments need to be made to your new procedures. The more accurately you monitor the progress, the easier it is to spot where there may be barriers to the success of the scheme. Monitoring is an ongoing process, especially as the food industry is affected by the seasons. You may find that measures that work well in the winter months are not effective in the summer and vice versa.
Monitoring will also enable you to see where staff require extra support or where you may need to change to suppliers who are more willing to work with you. Most importantly, build upon your success. If you manage to reduce food waste in one stage of your operations, then carry out steps 1 to 4 again in another area!
So, let's get started ...
Start by calculating the amount of food waste you produce and identify at which stage of your operation the most waste occurs. Then visit the WRAP website, where there are lots of suggestions on how all sectors of the food industry can reduce waste.