This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
It’s hard to believe, but an estimated 40% of food that’s produced in America ends up in the landfill. In its current state, food waste is one of the biggest causes of climate change, impacting the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions of the entire planet, along with the growing population of those who are food insecure. On an individual level, our national waste is analogous to leaving the grocery store with five bags of groceries, then dropping two on the way out without bothering to pick them up.
As an industry, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to lead by example, raising awareness of the issue, taking action and inspiring others to do the same. That was the catalyst behind Compass Group creating Stop Food Waste Day, now held the last Wednesday of April every year. What started as initiatives to reduce food waste in our own kitchens has quickly grown to be a movement that brings together consumers, businesses, nonprofit organizations and government entities all focused on fighting food waste.
While this isn’t an issue that one person or one company can solve alone, elevating the conversation and encouraging everyone to adopt small changes in their food purchasing and prep habits can make a significant impact in reducing food waste, considering resources and protecting the environment. While taking the first step may be the hardest, the following are a number of best practices for making Stop Food Waste Day every day in any foodservice organization.
Making a real difference starts with awareness and education. Nobody in the food business wants to waste food. The bottom line is the more people know, the more people care. With recent disruptions in the supply chain, increased food insecurity and growing threat of climate change, Stop Food Waste Day’s aim to teach communities the environmental, social and economic impact of food waste is more important than ever. This doesn’t just apply to back-of-house programs, it is relevant to consumers and guests. As Gene Smith, senior vice president and athletics director at The Ohio State University, says, “Through education, people begin to understand what can be reused and recycled, accepting that we need to think differently about the waste we produce.”
It’s critical to engage employees at all levels. Success comes from creating a culture of change across the organization, not from a single person or department. At Google, Emily Ma, head of Food for Good at Google, champions food-waste reduction throughout the organization. “Efforts to reduce food waste have to be inclusive,” Ma says. “We all need to work together, collaborate in new ways, and share our knowledge.”
Empowering employees to identify ways to reduce food waste in their own organization can have multiple benefits. On one hand, it encourages people to look for ways to do things differently and speak up if they see an opportunity for improvement. At the same time, companies can launch initiatives and develop training programs that provide a framework for employees to work within. Waste-tracking contests in multiple locations can create friendly competition where the environment is the main winner. Offering ongoing knife skills training to maximize ingredient usage and encouraging creativity with low-waste recipes benefit everyone. For example, we recently held a Stop Food Waste Global Recipe Challenge to build our recipe library, which generated dozens of new menu items that can be shared around the world.
Measure and recognize progress. It’s important to regularly report on results at the local or unit level, as well as the national or corporate level. Celebrate progress and boost excitement around meeting and contributing to goals. This can be a critical step in putting a renewed focus on and appreciation of food waste.
At Compass Group, we’re committed to leading the way and improving the food system through internal practices, meaningful partnerships and the consumers we serve. Our chefs developed Waste Not 2.0, a proprietary cloud-based program that makes it easy to monitor, track and reduce food waste in our own kitchens, down to the station level. In the last year, 375 accounts reduced their waste by over 650,000 pounds, avoiding the generation of 1,580 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) and saving 65 million gallons of water.
Think outside the kitchen and never stop learning. Listen to industry experts, nonprofit organizations and leaders to uncover ways everyone can continue fighting food waste. As a part of the landmark US Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions, a joint initiative of the USDA, EPA and FDA, more than 35 members have committed to reducing food waste 50% by 2030, which aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals. This group regularly hosts events and shares best practices, including the upcoming USDA Food Loss and Waste Innovation Fair on May 26, open to businesses, nonprofits, researchers, food sector leaders, and anyone interested in the latest research and programs on food loss and waste reduction.
This year, meaningful conversations on the topic of food waste reduction also continue on April 28th at the Stop Food Waste Day virtual event. Thousands of industry leaders will gather to hear more than 25 renowned speakers, including Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank; Sam Kass, partner at Acre Venture Partners and former White House chef and senior policy advisor; Emily Ma, head of Food for Good at Google; Jon Utech, director of the Office for a Healthy Environment at the Cleveland Clinic; Chef Tiffany Derry, well-known for her appearances on Top Chef; Dana Gunders, executive director of ReFED, a food waste nonprofit; as well as many U.S. Senators and Congresspersons. Registration is free and more information can be found here.
Amy Keister is senior vice president of sustainability and culinary at Compass Group and founder of Stop Food Waste Day.