In a world where 805 million people starve every year, around one-third of all food produced gets wasted. This wasted food amounts to approximately 1.3 billion pounds which is enough to feed 3 billion people. It is ironic how starvation and food wastage can be major global concerns of the world at the same time.
Remember the last time you went to a restaurant and sent back food because it didn’t please you? Those few pieces of chicken you left because you were full? That one instance when you noticed the people next to you leaving behind half their food? What do you think happens with that food? All that food is thrown out and wasted.
Restaurants alone contribute to a major chunk of food wastage. The research estimated that restaurants throw out nearly 85% of unused food. Whether it’s from a customer’s plate or from the kitchen, tossing scraps is part of the status quo. Whereas, only a small percentage is recycled or donated. So, it’s safe to say that restaurants may toss out anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food each year.
Food is thrown away due to different excuses by the restaurants. The most common are – preparation, customer leftovers, and spoilage. This wasted food ends up in landfills and contributes to several key issues like greenhouse gas emissions. We might think, why don’t restaurants donate food to the homeless and the misfortunate? The problem is that even good deeds in this world come with a catch.
Different Types Of Food Waste
1. Pre-Consumer Waste
This is the primary kind or first sort of food waste. When the food is being prepared in the kitchen, there are scraps or leftovers. Apart from that, there can be some inventory that may get spoiled and therefore deemed unfit for consumption by the restaurant. All of this is what contributes to pre-consumer waste.
This is the waste from the kitchen and not from the customer. No restaurant would like to get in trouble by feeding rotten food to the customer. One bad review from a customer and the restaurant can lose the entire market. Because of this, restaurants still discard the scraps and the spoiled food in their inventory, even if they aren’t completely inedible.
2. Post-Consumer Food Waste
After the food is served to a customer, they may send it back or waste it. This accumulated food waste is post-consumer food waste. There isn’t much a restaurant can do in order to prevent this waste from being generated. However, various measures can be taken to manage the waste instead of tossing it out.
Proper food management would not only help fight environmental issues but also benefit the restaurant. It would save them a huge amount of money and even help to improve their efficiency. Restaurants can minimize the possibility of waste generation through small steps. This includes designing a smaller food portion, using smaller plates, etc.
3. Why Restaurants Waste Food Instead of Donating it
There are a lot of reasons why restaurants waste food. The major ones are spoilage and the food being declared unfit or inedible. Restaurants have a reputation to withhold. For example, if a customer sends back untouched food due to any reason. This food now can’t be served to another customer and has to ultimately be tossed out.
You may wonder why restaurants don’t donate this food to the less fortunate. Why do they just toss it away instead? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it seems. There are many reasons why restaurants waste food instead of donating it.
4. Government Rules and Regulations
In various places like some states of the U.S, it’s illegal to feed the homeless. It can result in getting fined and even jail time in a few cases. There was a case where an elderly was fined and even sent to jail for feeding the homeless. But this doesn’t stop here.
There are also other legal implications that come with feeding the homeless. The restaurant refrains from giving out food that can be spoiled and lead to potential food poisoning. This is because the person getting sick can decide to sue the restaurant. This could ruin the reputation of the restaurant and subject them to a big legal fee.
5. A Lack of Thought
Let’s face it; some businesses just don’t care. The social responsibilities that come with running a business or just existing as a human don’t resonate with every organization. For such individuals, earning revenue is all that matters. Whether the food gets wasted or feeds a starving person isn’t in question.
It may also harm their prestige to donate food to a few restaurants. There are direct and indirect costs involved with donating food too. The restaurant will have to hire more employees just to give away leftover food. They would also have to incur variable costs like cost of transportation etc., not every restaurant is ready to put out money towards efficient waste management and social work.
Why Is Food Wastage An Issue?
There are a lot of social and environmental issues with food wastage. Let’s start with the environmental factors. The wasted food is dumped in landfills. This amounts to a huge amount of food. With 31% of restaurant food getting dumped in landfills, $162 billion worth of food goes with it. A semi-truck has the capacity to hold up to 80,000 pounds. A single restaurant can produce food waste enough to fill 94% of that each year.
This huge amount of food, when left to rot in the landfills, produces methane. Methane is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and climate change. It is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in a 20-year period.
Another major reason is World hunger. In a world where millions of people die of starvation, food wastage is an irony. This food that is being wasted can not only feed those who are hungry now but also help end hunger in the future. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, a study reveals that the food being thrown away is twice as much as what would be needed to cure world hunger.
However, the environment and hunger are not the only aspects that are affected by food wastage. When food is wasted, it automatically leads to wastage of water, animal lives, space, energy, etc. it’s just like throwing them away too when you throw away food.
Which Country Wastes The Most Food
Even though every country contributes majorly to food wastage, the USA tops the list. 30-40% of all the food in the USA, which amounts to 80 billion pounds, goes to waste. Monetarily it amounts to $160 billion. This food wastage has just tripled in the last 50 years. The following table tabulates the percentage of food wasted from various sources in the United States during 2022, till date.
Source Food Wasted (%)
- Homes 43%
- Restaurants 40%
- Farms 16%
- Manufacturing 2%
How To Reduce Food Waste In Restaurants
Food wastage can be reduced if restaurants make a conscious effort towards better food waste management. Although it isn’t exactly possible to reduce wastage from the customer’s side, a strategic approach towards waste management can help. It can reduce the waste produced in the kitchen and, to some extent, even from the customers. Here are a few ways by which restaurants can reduce their food wastage –
1. Measuring Food Waste
Restaurants can keep track of the food produced compared to the food wasted. By simply doing this, restaurants can hold up from producing more than what is actually required. They can maintain an inventory, keeping track of which particular item was wasted in what quantities. Based on the recorded information, they can also make changes to the menu.
Smaller portions of meals can be introduced, keeping in mind what an average customer consumes. Food ordering patterns can be observed to exercise more control over the kitchen. By doing so only, the required raw material would be bought.
2. Engage Staff
It is highly important to also motivate the staff to practice food waste management. A conscious and motivated staff could make minor changes that eventually create a significant impact. They can also brainstorm and come up with ideas for a better waste management system. Investing and certifying your staff is one of a restaurant’s best things.
3. Practice Good Stock Control
Food that gets spoiled is wasted by the restaurants in order to ensure good health standards. This can be prevented by proper storage of stock. Make sure that the food is stored in a clean environment and is labeled. Labelling ‘best before’ dates on food can help in the efficient usage of stock before it goes bad.
Also, having a plan in case of excess production will minimize wastage. Keeping an eye on overproduction is important. Many restaurants use batches to save time and money. But this leads to massive wastage. Shifting towards cook-to-order preparation instead would minimize not only waste but also save money.
There are various reasons why restaurants waste food. Some can be understood, but some are purely reckless. This food wastage has various implications, socially, environmentally, and financially. Certain measures have been taken to reduce wastage, but no evident change has been yet observed. We continue to live in an ironic world where food wastage and world hunger coexist.
There is still a ray of hope as 193 countries have signed an agreement. In the agreement, they make a commitment to end world hunger by 2030 by reducing food waste. Only time will tell if this ends up being successful or gets tossed away like the food being wasted.