Every year, Americans waste more than 63 million tons of food. Most of that waste, over 80 percent, comes from consumer-facing businesses and homes as reported by ReFED.
The food industry has a responsibility to lead the effort to reduce food waste. That’s why at Aramark, we have made a commitment to reduce our food waste by 50% by 2030.
Kathy Cacciola, who leads our environmental efforts, and Josh Scarbriel, a director of food management, focus on areas where we can make the greatest environmental impact, both behind-the-scenes in the kitchen and in the front-of-house with consumer engagement and awareness.
Cacciola and Scarbriel work across multiple teams on an approach that is consistent with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) food recovery hierarchy, which calls for reducing food waste before it’s even generated, then feeding hungry people, followed by feeding animals, composting, and landfilling as a last resort.
Any venue with food services can leverage a few straightforward steps to minimize food waste and create a positive impact through simple operational changes.
When asked about implementing a food waste reduction plan or improving existing efforts, Cacciola and Scarbriel offered these tips that can serve as a guide:
1 – Start with Measurement
Prevention starts with measurement, because what gets measured, gets managed. That’s why we focus on stopping waste at the source by adhering to our food management process across all of our locations, which includes standards for ordering, receiving, preparing, serving, and tracking food production. To accelerate our food waste minimization practices at our highest impact accounts, we utilize LeanPath’s industry-leading food waste prevention technology to support real time food waste tracking, insight and behavior change. Building upon an initial pilot with results showing a 36% reduction in food waste, we have installed LeanPath across our 500 highest volume locations over the past year, with plans to expand more broadly over the next several years.
At South Dakota State University, we partnered with LeanPath to significantly reduce food waste.
LeanPath gives us a look at our impact and results, increasing motivation to reduce waste. They share helpful questions to ask your team, along with other food waste reduction tips regularly on their blog. “It's all about looking at the data and asking the right questions,” says Rob White, Executive Chef and Food Waste Prevention Catalyst at LeanPath.
2 – Manage Through Ordering
Just like at home, a great way to manage food waste is by planning out meals, making a shopping list, and only purchasing exactly what you need to make those meals. It is no different for the food industry.
Our managers and chefs assess how much food they need to prepare, order the appropriate ingredients, and then train employees to follow our food production and portioning process. It’s the constant, consistent communications with their team that create a waste saving mindset and approach to continual improvement in the waste reduction process.
Scarbriel advocates that LeanPath allows teams to determine where waste is coming from and why it’s there in the first place, to better forecast for food production and ordering purposes. “Our size positions us to drive significant change. Having that data is the best way to activate a smart and sustainable ordering approach.”
3 – Connect with Food Donation Organizations
While reducing waste at the source is our main goal, there may be instances of over-production. Working with Food Donation Connection, we have found avenues to connect with local non-profit organizations and hunger relief agencies to safely donate, unused, unserved food. This partnership creates a network that links available sources of food to those in need through existing charitable organizations. In 2016, Aramark donated more than 100,000 pounds of safe surplus food through these connections.
4 – Activate Food Waste Diversion
Starting small and working up to bigger, more meaningful changes bolsters our ability to minimize food waste. We partner with our clients to implement recycling and composting programs to further divert waste from the landfill. When composting, we’ve found the most success when working in partnership with local municipalities and environmental groups to ensure every compostable food scrap has a place to go.
The focus overall is on continuously improving, demonstrating progress, and leading our industry on this important issue. Through these programs and practices, and in partnership with our clients, suppliers, NGOs and other partners, we’re working toward measurable improvement. You can learn from our experiences in higher education at the University of California, Irvine, where we achieved significant impact in several dining halls across the West Coast campus.
5 – Tell your Story and Engage Consumers
The implementation of a plan is just as important as the plan itself. That’s why we believe the food industry must work in partnership with clients and consumers to make the right choices.
Not only do we train our staff for optimal back of house efficiency, we have implemented front of house communications with consumers. Only by raising consumer awareness about the impact waste has on the environment and providing easy to adopt activities, such as taking only what you can eat or going tray-less will individuals be encouraged to change existing habits.
We’ve seen good success with this approach. Currently, more than 86% of our higher education accounts are tray-less, which has proven to be an effective tactic in decreasing dining hall food waste.
Arizona State University raises consumer awareness by displaying cumulative waste totals throughout the day.
In addition, we’ve tested a scale system connected to bins as a post-consumer waste pilot at a number of higher education dining halls. When consumers are finished with their meals, they leave food on their dishes. These are emptied into a scale linked to a tablet to import the data. In real-time, that information is displayed on a TV allowing people to see the trends throughout the day and collectively over time. It’s been successful and could become a model replicated across not only other universities but business dining cafés and healthcare locations.
6 – Partner with Key Influencers
We recently partnered with ReFED, a multi-stakeholder nonprofit committed to reducing food waste in the United States, to inform their Food Waste Action Guide. The guide provides best practices and strategies for food service and restaurants, such as managing waste through ordering. The guide presents a set of proven prevention, recovery, and recycling solutions to help the industry prioritize and accelerate waste reduction activities.
We also reached a zero-waste landmark at Super Bowl LII with the NFL, in partnership with PepsiCo, U.S. Bank Stadium, SMG and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Ninety-one percent of all trash generated on game day from 67,612 fans was responsibly recovered through composting, recycling and reuse.
For us, partnering with clients, providers, vendors and other interested groups to identify more sustainable practices and solutions is the path forward. We can all reduce food waste, increase food security, and spur economic growth.