Food Waste

Like any good waste management program, the most important aspect of dealing with food waste is to not create it in the first place. Foodservice operations produce a huge amount of organic waste, much of which could and should be prevented.

According to LeanPath Inc., a producer of food waste management software, 4-10% of foodservice food purchases wind up as pre-consumer waste. This includes not just vegetable trimmings, but also overproduction, spoiled items, burned items, salad bar leftovers and incorrect orders. All these waste sources are preventable through oversight, tracking and basic system changes.

Post-consumer food waste also makes up a huge part of the foodservice industries waste stream. Post-consumer waste is harder to control, but is manageable. Portion size is the best option for controlling waste on the consumer end, both in the item recipe itself and kitchen staff's portioning control. Consider half-portion, children's menus if applicable, the portions of the side dishes, which tend to make up most of post-consumer food waste, and ensure the kitchen staff is properly trained.

Preventing waste not only cuts your food and labor, but can also cut your garbage bill. The city of Seattle conducted audits that found 63% of a restaurant's garbage was composed of organic material. A good waste management system with proper reduction, reuse and recycling systems in place can have a significant effect on your organizations bottom line.

One of the first steps to take to reduce food waste is to track current waste with some sort of tracking system. On the simple end are food waste logs where staff can record items being thrown away then compile the lists on a daily or weekly basis and analyze to make adjustments in ordering, prepping, cooking line procedures or any number of other variables. This is a very simple option and should be standard operating procedure in all foodservice operations. Large or small, all facilities produce excess food wastes that increase food costs.

On the more detailed end is a unique waste prevention program called ValuWaste produced by LeanPath Inc. The system uses hardware and software to track and analyze food waste. This system has proven to show significant savings in food cost, but it is usually recommended for large-scale, non-commercial operations rather than restaurants.

With strong reduction programs in place, food reuse and recycling come into practice. The EPA has created a food waste hierarchy to help people make the best use of food waste. These topics are covered below in Food Donation, and also on the Animal Feed and Composting links.

food waste hierarchy

Food Donation

Food donation is a wonderful, simple way to contribute to your local community and reduce the amount of food going into your trashcan. Thousands of organizations throughout the country run a variety of food banks and soup kitchens that feed those in need. Most of these organizations are not-for-profit and therefore make your donations tax deductible. Coordinating with these organizations is usually as simple as making a phone call to pick-up your unused, distressed or surplus canned or perishable food. If your restaurant or non-comm kitchen produces a regular amount of unused food, most organizations will establish a regular time to pick-up your donation on a daily or weekly basis. America's Second Harvest (now Feeding America), a nationwide food bank organization, provides a food donation guideline that details packaging, storage, acceptable food conditions and the donation process at most food banks.

Feeding America's website also has a food bank database that lists food bank and soup kitchen organizations throughout the country.

There are a number of local organizations that do not belong to Feeding America that are just as reputable as Feeding America. These can be found through local churches or simply Googling "food bank" along with your city and state.


The federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed in 1996 to encourage food donation. The act does a few things:

  1. It reduces the liability of donors who donate food items to a non-profit organization
  2. Protects donors from civil and criminal liability in cases of tainted food
  3. Sets a liability standard for those donating in various areas of the country
  4. Created a definition of "gross negligence" and "intellitional misconduct" pertaining to food and grocery donation

Additional Food Waste Resources

Food Donation - A Restaurateur's Guide
A resource from the National Restaurant Association and the US Department of Agriculture that explains food donation in detail along with tips on what to donate and how to donate safely and effectively.

Food Waste Focus Blog
Blog from LeanPath Inc. on food waste trends.

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