How a restaurant or grocery store disposes of its waste can truly impact the safety of the facility and the health of the people who work and visit there. It is imperative that stores effectively manage their waste production and removal in order to keep the space clean and safe for employees and consumers alike. Below are several ways to efficiently reduce waste, keeping food service and retail establishments as sanitary as possible.
The cycle begins with product acquisition and proper ordering. It is important for restaurants and grocery stores to have an accurate gauge of how much product they should be ordering, with the goal being to have nothing left over as waste once food has been bought or consumed. Over-ordering can result in financial pressure to serve food that may be past its expiration date, but still “consumable” to some. This is a dangerous trap for a grocery store or restaurant to fall into, as outdated food can cause health and safety issues.
In order to steer clear of this, make sure the food distributor fully understands the trends in consumption: Do fewer people purchase a certain vegetable on certain days? Is it a season where a particular fruit is extra popular, like watermelon in the summer? All of these nuances should be part of the conversation. If something is quick to go bad, which can create waste or other hazards, order conservatively. If there are other uses for a certain food, feel free to purchase a bit more generously, knowing that it will all be put to use before it expires.
Next, and equally as important, is how this food is stored. Of course, not everything that is purchased will be used or bought by customers immediately, so store all products carefully. Below are some basic tips from FDA to prevent foodborne illnesses.
- Anything perishable should be refrigerated or frozen immediately. These items (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, produce) should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. This also applies to items such as leftovers, which may be used in the following day’s production.
- When putting food away, don’t crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that air can’t circulate.
- Refrigerator temperatures should be at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The freezer temperature should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius).
- Check canned goods for damage upon delivery and periodically during its shelf life. Look for swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, fractures, extensive deep rusting, or crushing or denting severe enough to prevent normal stacking or opening with a manual, wheel-type can opener. Stickiness on the outside of cans may indicate a leak.
- Keep food away from any cleaning products and chemicals.
- For a premade mix or recipe, create labels that show the date it was made and when it will expire. (Use the soonest expiration date of the most perishable ingredient.) Tape this in a very visible area of the container, and be sure to use it before that date.
Adhering to these tips will not only keep food safe, but will also provide a longer shelf life, allowing ample time to use all purchased products.
As mentioned, a great way to reduce excess product waste from purchased and stored items is to find new uses for those items, whether it’s in a restaurant’s menu item or in a grocery store’s deli, bakery, hot bar, or meat counter. Choose versatile products that can be used in different instances. For example, say the staff over-ordered carrots intended for a particular dish your organization offers that uses carrots. Is there a way to create a new side to get rid of the excess carrots—perhaps dice them up and use them in a soup to sell for the remainder of that week? Some of the most versatile veggies and fruits include cauliflower, zucchini, sweet potatoes, avocado, and plantains. The uses for these items knows almost no limits. Be sure the quantity of an item is proportionate to the uses a kitchen is able to get out of it.
The last part of this whole process is the sanitary removal of waste and excess food. While it is easy to take measures to reduce waste as much as possible, this is an inevitable step, so it is important to do it responsibly to not contaminate your kitchen or grocery areas. There are a few ways to make this as sustainable, safe, and effective as possible.
First is through donation. If you have cooked or ready-to-eat perishable ingredients, ensure they go to a responsible organization that can distribute them to be consumed before their expiration date. A local shelter or food pantry is a great place to take these goods to—many of them accept donations daily. This is also a good route for meats, bread, and other items that will go bad if they are not consumed.
Another avenue is composting. This is the process of breaking down organic materials so they can return to soil. Almost every natural ingredient in the kitchen or store can be composted. All that is needed are four components to get the process going:
- Carbon — the microbial oxidation of carbon produces the heat (high carbon items tend to be brown and dry);
- Nitrogen — to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon (high nitrogen materials tend to be colorful and wet, such as fruits and vegetables);
- Oxygen — for oxidizing the carbon, the decomposition process; and
- Water — in the right amounts to maintain activity without causing anaerobic conditions.
Before starting a composting program, contact a waste hauler to confirm it has a collection program for organics. Most businesses may use a hauler to collect items for compost, but some may want to compost on site, if local regulations allow. Reach out to the waste hauler to set up the proper containers and signage. Once you confirm your waste hauler has a collection program for organics, find the right equipment and supplies needed to compost. Get a proper size bin and empty it daily.
This touches on the last component to keeping waste and safety top of mind for your restaurant or store: your supply chain partners. From distributors to waste haulers, it is important to select trusted and thorough vendors who understand the needs and goals of the business in both safety and sustainability. Make sure to have ongoing conversations about operational needs and how to effectively move product without creating waste or sanitation hazards. It takes a lot of thought and planning, but with the right tools in place, food service and retail establishments can seamlessly eliminate waste and create a safer environment.
Hollis is the cofounder and president of Elytus. Reach him at 614-824-4985 x305.