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How much is your food waste costing your business?

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Food waste can be categorized into two types: unavoidable and avoidable. Unavoidable waste includes egg shells, bones, peels, and other items that cannot be eaten, even if they can be re-purposed. Avoidable waste includes uneaten food on plates, half-eaten lasagne trays at buffets, spoiled vegetables that were ordered but not cooked, and items that were forgotten about and went mouldy in the back of the fridge.

The goal of any kitchen is to reduce unavoidable waste and eliminate avoidable waste. Both types of waste cost money and are linked. For example, eggshell waste is directly related to how many eggs are cooked. If too many eggs are cracked, then the "unavoidable" egg shell waste was essentially “avoidable”.

It is important to recognize that food waste has a value. When food is wasted, money is being thrown into the dustbin.

A case study:

A commercial kitchen makes sandwiches. Lots of them. For tea. For events. For afternoon snacks. For staff meetings. And every single sandwich that's made doesn't use the crust-ends from the loaf. The crusts, on average, are 9% of every loaf. If you're using 20 loaves a day, then you're basically wasting R19.99/1.09 (including VAT) X 20 loaves X 22 days = R726.24 per week (rounded up and average premium brown bread price). Over a year these unused crusts can amount to R8,714.91. And this is just for those two end bits on a loaf. What else is being purchased and not eaten?

Recently Earth Probiotic conducted a food waste audit at a luxury resort in Southern Africa. On average, including staff and guest meals, more than 1.7kg of food waste was put into the bin per person per day at the resort. As these resorts are 365 day per year operations it was calculated that this 80 person resort wasted 49,460 kg per year (over 49 metric tonnes!).

The following table estimates the potential value of that wastage at different value assumptions:

100% avoidable waste 70% 40% 10%
@R5.00/kg R247,300.00 R173,110.00 R98,920.00 R24,730.00
@R10.00/kg R494,600.00 R346,220.00 R197,840.00 R49,460.00
@R15.00/kg R741,900.00 R519,330.00 R296,760.00 R74,190.00

Even if all of the waste was only 10% avoidable, that would still be a significant cost saving.

What can be done to reduce food waste?

Whilst having zero waste is practically impossible in a commercial kitchen, there are a number of things that can be done to radically minimize that waste. Food waste comes from three core hospitality actions:

  • Over-purchasing driven by the fear of not having enough to feed everyone.
  • Over-producing because you need to ensure that everyone has more than enough to eat (and have lots and lots of choices).
  • Over-serving because you're in the hospitality business and need to be seen to be generous.

To start reducing food waste, the following seven actions are good starting points:

  1. Measure how much is wasted. This will help identify where most waste is coming from.
  2. Monitor what is wasted. This will help answer the "why" behind the waste volume.
  3. Offer different portion sizes and don't over-serve at serving counters. 1.Offer fewer excellent choices rather than a mass of OK ones. Quality rather than quantity.
  4. Informally or formally question your staff and guests about their food preferences (preferences, portion sizes).
  5. Develop clever delicious re-purposing recipes for excess stock and left-overs.
  6. Make sure that your staff are educated about food waste; including its environmental and operational impact.

Reducing food waste is a process. And a journey. It will not happen overnight. But it shouldn't take forever. Key is to start. And then measure the impact on your bottom line.

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