Reducing and eliminating food waste is increasingly important to the foodservice industry, not only for its social and environmental benefits, but also economically. According to the Toronto Food Policy Council, over $30 billion of food is wasted in Canada each year, which is approximately 40% of the food produced yearly. So, what can operators do?
Finding ways to use every part of fruits, vegetables and animals is key to minimizing waste. Operators are getting creative by using leftover or underused parts, such as vegetable stems or edible fruit pits, in new ways. This ethical and financially savvy movement, also known as “garbage-to-plate,” is looking to change the way consumers view otherwise discarded food. A lot of the food we throw away is primarily due to appearance. We cut off the ends of zucchini or cucumber, toss out browned lettuce and discard misshapen produce, all to preserve the aesthetic appeal of a dish. In fact, more than 30% of fruits and vegetables in North America are rejected by supermarkets because they aren’t attractive enough to consumers. However, many of these foods can be given new life by focusing on the taste and preparation over the look. Additionally, educating operators on food science, such as expiration dates and proper storage options, can help save a lot of regularly discarded food.
In March, Starbucks announced plans to enact a new FoodShare donation program to end waste at its U.S. locations. Refrigerated trucks will pick up all unsold food from company-operated units and distribute it to local food banks. Although there are no immediate plans for a similar nationwide program in Canada, select Starbucks units in the country already donate leftover food using local donation programs. Canadian operators unable to practically subscribe to the “waste-to-plate” movement can find solace in third-party donation programs, such as Toronto’s Second Harvest. The Second Harvest Food Rescue & Delivery service connects providers with excess food, such as restaurants, food manufacturers and retailers, to a network of over 220 social-service agencies in Toronto. These types of programs are not only free of waste management, pick-up and delivery costs for operators, but they can also help them build up a socially responsible, community-driven reputation.
The economic, social and environmental effects of food waste can be felt on a global scale, but it is first on the local level, among restaurants and retailers, where we will really start to see these waste-management strategies make an impact.