Addressing Food Waste in Foodservice

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuE‬very produce professional understands the business impact of shrink‭; ‬it shrinks potential profit‭. ‬But if a customer buys the produce‭, ‬either in retail or foodservice‭, ‬does it matter what happens next‭? ‬

Food Insecurity and Hunger in the United States

Food insecurity and hunger are daily challenges for many people in the United States‭. ‬Feeding America‭, ‬the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization‭, ‬estimates one out of every eight Americans is food insecure‭. ‬Today‭, ‬more than 42‭ ‬million Americans will not get enough to eat‭, ‬including 13‭ ‬million children and 5‭ ‬million seniors‭. ‬The National Resource Defense Council‭ ‬estimates if we reduce food waste by just 15‭ ‬percent‭, ‬that could provide enough food to feed more than 25‭ ‬million Americans every year‭. ‬

How Much Food is Wasted‭?‬

USDA estimates 30‭ ‬to 40‭ ‬percent of food produced in this country is wasted‭. ‬Every person in the United States wastes on average‭ ‬400‭ ‬pounds per year‭. ‬An American family of four throws out‭ $‬1,600‭ ‬in food each year‭. ‬Collectively‭, ‬we are throwing out the equivalent of‭ $‬165‭ ‬billion worth of food every year‭. ‬It’s no surprise food waste represents the largest portion‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬21‭ ‬percent‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬of waste in municipal landfills‭. ‬

Food Waste‭ ‬&‭ ‬Climate Change‭: ‬The Role of Methane

Methane is one of three greenhouse gases contributing to climate change‭. ‬Food in landfills produces methane gas as it decomposes‭. ‬The same is true of food in compost piles‭. ‬But if the purpose is to use compost to enhance soil health‭, ‬the methane production‭ ‬is an acceptable by-product of the process‭. ‬But in a landfill‭, ‬the methane produced from wasted food serves no beneficial purpose‭. ‬

Top Categories of Wasted Food

USDA estimates 30‭ ‬percent of the value of all wasted food in the United States comes from meat‭, ‬poultry and fish‭, ‬followed by vegetables‭ (‬19‭ ‬percent‭) ‬and dairy products‭ (‬17‭ ‬percent‭). ‬Dietary intake of vegetables and dairy products are below recommended levels for more than 80‭ ‬percent of the population over the age of 1‭. ‬We need to focus our food waste reduction efforts on these nutrient-rich‭, ‬perishable foods‭.‬

The Economic Burden of Food Waste

The economic burden of food waste is staggering‭. ‬Data from ReFED‭, ‬a collaboration of more than 30‭ ‬business‭, ‬non-profit‭, ‬foundation and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States‭, ‬show the country spends‭ $‬218‭ ‬billion‭, ‬or 1.3‭ ‬percent‭, ‬of GDP growing‭, ‬processing‭, ‬transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten‭. ‬

Food Waste Occurs Across the Food Supply Chain

While many think people are wasting most food at home or in restaurants‭, ‬food waste occurs across our food system‭. ‬ReFED estimates the largest percentage of food waste happens at home‭ (‬43‭ ‬percent‭), ‬followed by supermarkets and restaurants‭ (‬40‭ ‬percent‭), ‬and‭ ‬then on farms‭ (‬16‭ ‬percent‭). ‬The remaining 2‭ ‬percent is wasted during food processing‭. ‬

Strategies for Reducing Food Waste in Foodservice

Andrew Shakman‭, ‬head of LeanPath‭, ‬a company devoted to reducing food waste in foodservice operations is often quoted as saying‭, ‬“You can’t manage what you can’t measure‭.‬”‭ ‬By measuring amounts and sources of wasted food‭, ‬foodservice operations can begin to see where they can have the most impact in‭ ‬reducing waste‭.‬

Proper handling of produce in foodservice operations is a challenge‭. ‬Suppliers and distributors who provide training in proper handling and storage can help customers reduce losses‭.‬

Many campus dining operations have been using the simple strategy of removing trays from their operations‭. ‬Trays allow excess food to be taken‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬and often wasted‭. ‬Using smaller plates and bowls is another strategy for reducing food waste that may also reduce excess caloric intake in‭ ‬“all-you-can-eat”‭ ‬environments‭.‬

Anyone who operates a buffet knows the challenges related to food quality‭, ‬as well as food waste‭. ‬By doing batch cooking and using smaller steam table trays‭, ‬operations can reduce food waste‭. ‬The same principle applies to salad bars‭. ‬Using smaller salad bar containers can help reduce waste from cross-contamination or improper holding temperatures‭.‬

A final big‭, ‬and often neglected‭, ‬opportunity for reducing wasted produce in foodservice is preparing and presenting it in a way‭ ‬that increases the likelihood it will be eaten‭, ‬not tossed in the trash‭.‬

Produce deserves the attention of talented culinary professionals who can create craveable deliciousness‭. ‬Steaming a side of vegetables is not good enough‭. ‬Focusing on culinary techniques that improve visual appeal‭, ‬aroma‭, ‬flavor and texture can increase consumption while reducing waste‭.‬

Amy Myrdal Miller‭, ‬MS‭, ‬RDN‭, ‬FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota‭, ‬award-winning dietitian‭, ‬culinary nutrition expert‭, ‬and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting‭, ‬Inc‭. ‬She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative‭. ‬You can learn more about her business at, ‬and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on Twitter‭ ‬@AmyMyrdalMiller‭.‬