Over one-third of all food produced globally goes to waste, equating to roughly 1.3 billion tonnes every year. In the UK annually, around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste is produced, which means the country creates some of the highest amounts of food waste in Europe, according to reports.
On a worldwide and national level, it’s evident that food wastage is a huge problem, largely because of its negative implications on the environment. For starters, when food is wasted this also wastes the labour, natural resources, energy, and water used to produce it.
The bigger issue, however, is that this then gets channelled back into landfill sites where this food rots and produces methane gas - a product that is even more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. This means that food wastage is a large contributor to global warming and is having significant detrimental effects on climate change.
Often, the issue of food waste produced in households across the world is addressed in localised or nationwide campaigns, but there’s equally much to be done by businesses to reduce food waste.
For business owners in the dining and hospitality sectors, the issue of food wastage is one that simply cannot be ignored, not just because of its environmental impacts but also because of the significant costs it can incur for your company. To put it into perspective, Britain’s hospitality industry alone produces roughly 920,000 tonnes of food waste each year, and a whopping three-quarters of this would be avoidable if this sector were to simply recycle its food waste accordingly.
The figures don’t lie, and it appears that food waste is a serious problem for food businesses. We’ve created the following article detailing the simple methods to reduce food waste that companies can adopt to benefit themselves financially and be more sustainable to benefit the planet.
Better stock management is a vital part of reducing food waste, as it ensures that older stock will always be used up before it has a chance to go to waste, while also helping to avoid overbuying ingredients.
Be sure to keep an inventory of what is in your refrigerators, freezers, and pantries to do this, as you will then achieve a full picture of exactly what you have to hand. This way, you know exactly what foods you should use before they expire and can justify purchasing any additional stock that you can confirm you need without wasting money.
Before you can make any progress on your mission to reduce food waste, it's vital to first examine where the problems are arising.
As such, restaurants should review their processes to see why food is being wasted in the first place. It could be that ingredients are going out of date too quickly because staff aren’t noting their use by dates, that mistakes in food preparation are being made, or that the portions are simply too big.
Once the causes of the waste have been identified, it's worth taking time to calculate how much this is costing the business. This will provide a clearer metric for measuring progress, as well as an incentive to take action.
One of the best methods to stop wasting food is to examine your approach to storage. Storing food properly will allow you to maximise the length of time for which food items are at their best and suitable to consume.
Temperature control is a critical part of UK food health and safety procedures, given that foods stored at the wrong temperatures can be a breeding ground for harmful pathogens and bacteria, posing a risk to consumers. Thus, companies should regularly check their fridge and freezer temperatures to make sure these appliances are maintaining the correct environments to store food. Sensors that issue alerts when temperatures rise above a safe level are a great technology to reduce food waste too, helping to keep food fresh.
Investing in good storage equipment that is airtight will also mean ingredients can stay fresh for longer. But if you’re removing food from its original packaging which states its use-by date, or if you’ve got leftover mixes or meals that can be stored for later, be sure to label them accordingly. If you later come across items stored in your kitchen and don’t know what they are or when they were made because of a lack of proper labelling, this can contribute to unnecessary food waste.
Sometimes, accumulating unwanted food items can't be avoided, but it's important to remember that this doesn't necessarily mean sending the stock straight to landfill.
Firstly, all uneaten food can be recycled, whether cooked or raw. This can be done in a wood waste bin, in which the food can later be used for compost and put to good use to nourish any plants you may be growing for your kitchen. This prevents unnecessary food waste from rotting in landfills and producing harmful greenhouse gases. Examples of foods that you can recycle to prevent food wastage include meat, dairy products, and bones.
Additionally, many restaurants choose to form links with local charities and food banks, so that any excess food can be donated to those in need. You can research what local charities are operating in your area and reach out to establish a relationship to stop wasting food whilst also benefiting members of your community.
Checking the use-by dates of food when purchasing it is important. Not only does this indicate when food is safe to eat so that you can keep your customers safe, but it also ensures that you’re not contributing to food waste unnecessarily.
When replenishing your stock, taking note of the use-by date to see if products will last the period that you need them to make your food is essential. This way, you’re not purchasing any food that will have passed its use-by date by the time you’re looking to make use of it, helping you stop food waste from going to landfill.
If you have more than one of any type of food item in stock, be sure to rotate them so that those that have a closer use-by date are not being forgotten about, or left until a later date when they may be beyond their best.
Your staff will have the biggest role to play in determining whether your food waste prevention strategies are successful or not. They will be coming into food products on a daily basis and they can offer feedback on which ingredients and dishes are most commonly being wasted, allowing you to focus on ways to reduce food waste for these specifically.
It's also worth remembering the contribution that customers themselves can make in helping to prevent food waste. Where possible, diners should be offered the option of taking their leftovers home with them. Not only will this eliminate wastage, but it will also give the customer a fuller dining experience and a better sense of having received value for their money.
Finally, it can really pay to invest in the right training to provide your business’ staff with the knowledge of how to prepare, store, and cook food correctly, avoid cross-contamination, and keep the premises clean, as this will help in reducing food waste too.
At Virtual College, we offer a range of food safety and hygiene training courses for your staff to develop a fuller understanding of this topic and realise the importance of reducing food wastage. Our Level 2 Food Safety & Hygiene for Catering course, for example, has been produced to help anyone working in catering or hospitality develop an awareness of how to clean equipment, safely store, and prepare food.
An additional way of managing food waste is by purchasing imperfect food products. These are ingredients that have been considered unworthy of pricing at normal costs because of aesthetic reasons. There’s nothing wrong with the ingredient itself, it's just that it may be oddly shaped.
Supermarkets are increasingly stocking imperfect produce on their shelves, and some companies even deliver these imperfect foods with monthly subscriptions. Farmers would likely be happy to sell you their imperfect produce, and you can support local agricultural companies by doing this and reduce food waste in the process.
If you find yourself to have leftovers, or produce that may soon be past its best, be sure to freeze it if it could still be of use later on the line. Produce like fruits and vegetables are fine to be frozen, and can be stewed or pureed in future recipes without you having to buy additional ingredients or send items to landfill.
Equally, items like sauces or meats can be happily kept in the freezer and used at a later date, and any produce that you manage to freeze and save until a later date will save you money in the long run.
Freezing surplus food is generally permitted in accordance with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), subject to the hygiene conditions that are stated in EU law regulation (EC) 852/2004.
Finally, setting yourself and your team targets to reduce food waste is essential to keep everyone in your business motivated to produce lower levels of wastage. If you first evaluate the level of food waste that you produce, this will allow you to set realistic goals for minimising food waste production.
You can then increase these targets on a monthly basis if necessary to continue striding towards having a business that produces as little food waste as possible.
Whilst all of the aforementioned methods to reduce food waste are effective, a particularly important and easy way of reducing food waste is by labelling your food correctly.
In food businesses and hospitality, having the names of foods, the dates for which they should be used, and any descriptions and allergen information, is crucial to stop them from being thrown away simply because they cannot be confidently identified.
All food waste that is not recycled is sent to landfill sites across the UK. As previously mentioned, this has huge negative impacts on the environment as the food will rot and produce the harmful greenhouse gas methane, which contributes to climate change.
In some cases, local councils will send any non-recyclable waste from their local communities to be incinerated, which can produce useful energy. However, this is less common.
Bread is the most thrown-out food product. According to insight, over 240 million slices of bread are disposed of every year, and this can be easily avoided. Bread products freeze very well, meaning that you can easily pop any unused slices in the freezer to use at a later date in your food business.
Producing food waste is a global problem and is one that is easily avoidable if we consider the simple strategies that can be put in place to reduce this, particularly in businesses. Not only will this mean that your company is taking steps to protect the environment, but it will also save you significant costs.
We hope this article has shed some light on the simple methods and tips to reduce food waste that you can implement in your business so that you have actionable steps to help our planet and to support the financial success of your business.
One of the key components of reducing food waste, as mentioned above, is the proper storage of food items. Storing food items in the correct way is also critical to maintaining great food safety and hygiene standards in your food business. So, to learn more about safe storage in the food industry, you and your staff can choose from our selection of food safety and hygiene courses. Our Level 1, 2, and 3 Food Hygiene Training Package, for example, will offer you a comprehensive understanding of this topic and will help you to ensure that you’re complying with UK and EU food hygiene training requirements