Better Food Waste Management Tactics During the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond

Senior Associate Rachel Lanzafame discusses options for improving food waste management, as our team is working together to collectively share business strategies for coping with the COVID-19 crisis, recovering from it, and planning for the future beyond it.
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As a global community, we are affected by the COVID-19 crisis and the repercussions of the social and economic shutdown. Our team is working together to collectively share business strategies for coping with the challenges from the pandemic, recovering from it, and planning for the future beyond it. We acknowledge that the food supply chain has been severely impacted by this crisis, making it all the more important to be resourceful and conscientious with our food management.

The U.S. is one of the world's top food exporters, supported by a diverse agricultural sector and a workforce of over a million people. Every year, 40% of the food produced in the U.S. ends up in landfills, and 2% of U.S. energy production goes toward food that ends up in the trash. Improving the processes for handling consumer food waste is not just a matter of ethical importance during this challenging pandemic and beyond it; financial considerations should be taken into account as well. There are opportunities to recover and recycle food waste, but by far, the most significant impact is by preventing waste in the first place. We believe the approach to this issue takes a combination of head and heart, with solutions coming from both the "Preconsumer" and "Postconsumer" angles. To briefly summarize the two perspectives:

  • Preconsumer waste is controlled in the kitchen and is due to overproduction, trim waste, spoilage, expiration, etc.
  • Postconsumer waste is managed by the guests served and is driven by portion size, behavior, self-service, etc.

In the kitchen, there are many ways for the foodservice industry to better manage food waste, and as a result, improve their bottom line. Here are some preconsumer strategies to consider:

  • Embrace "leaf-to-root" and "nose-to-tail" menu planning: Adjust menus to use as much of the plant or animal as possible. This approach can also offer opportunities for innovation by cooking unique recipes that can set a food service establishment apart.
  • Keep it fresh: Utilize just-in-time cooking and cook to order so that only what's needed is produced.
  • Tech, please! Take advantage of the available technology platforms that can audit and gain insight into where food waste in the kitchen is coming from and how to prevent it, while also reducing unnecessary food expenditures.

A strategic approach to reducing postconsumer waste can result in both a positive and conscientious meal experience. Below are a couple of tried and true examples for postconsumer food waste reduction:

  • Serving savvy: Prevent waste by right-sizing portions – or offer choices. By default, meals should be an appropriate serving size. Let the consumer customize ingredients and decide if they want more or less.
  • Tsk tsk! Use education with a healthy dose of shame to change behavior (it honestly works). For example, weigh any waste that is thrown away on-site, and share that data with consumers in real-time. Make it clear that consumers have an impact and suggest actions they can take, such as saving leftovers or choosing less food from the start.

Taking action to improve our food management processes will reduce food waste, helping to alleviate food insecurity, lower our carbon footprints, and potentially decrease pressure on the production front through better awareness of our consumption needs. As a financial benefit, improving food management and only buying what is needed saves money. That savings can go straight to the bottom line or can be used to fund other initiatives such as increasing local and sustainable purchases. Understandably, businesses that are interested in reducing food waste would have to consider their approach carefully, and our team is available for guidance as a strategic partner. Our first suggestion? Start small and choose one area of focus. Don't get hung up on perfection; instead, set a target and measure your progress. Then keep going.

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