Food waste is a large problem in the United States. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 40% of all food in America goes to waste. As a country we waste about 36 million tons of food. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are preparing and serving food 7 days a week, 365 days a year are contributing to this astounding poundage of wasted food. One study found that roughly 460 pounds of food per resident each year is wasted at long term care facilities.
Less wasted food means savings in money, labor, water, and fuel. An enormous number of resources and energy go into growing, processing, transporting, and eventually disposing all the wasted food. Most wasted food ends up in landfills, where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is up to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Long term care facilities face many dilemmas when it comes to cutting back on waste. There are many mandates from state governments that contribute to increased waste. Most residents are offered choice to improve their quality of life. However, offering ‘choice’ contributes to a large amount of food waste. Also, food-service providers are mandated to give ‘full portions’ to all residents whether they want them or not. A study completed by the University of Guelph in Ontario estimated that approximately 20% of food served to residents comes back untouched.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to cut down on the amount of food wasted in facilities. First and foremost, you need to assess how much food is actually being wasted at your facility. Once you have an idea of how much is being wasted you can then determine your reduction goals. Try some of the ideas listed below to prevent food waste and reuse and recycle food scraps to help your facility save money and reduce environmental impact.
- Everyone plays a part so inform all staff of the goal to reduce food waste- directors, cooks, servers, chefs, aids, and dishwashers etc.
- Menu plan- Modify menus to increase customer satisfaction and prevent and reduce uneaten food.
- Keep a close track of inventory.
- Repurpose left-overs into soups, stews, casseroles etc.
- Date perishable items when they come in and use them before they spoil.
- Cut off and peel less from fruits, vegetables, and meats and find ways to utilize scraps to prepare stocks, and sauces.
- Focus on serving foods that residents prefer or give them a choice of menu items. Foods that are disliked become plate waste.
- Consider switching to a resident/restaurant style with pre-ordered customized choices- Studies have shown that this style reduces per-patient daily food costs as well as food waste. It also increases resident satisfaction.
- Make sure serving scoops are appropriate and leveled off. Avoid serving excess but serve seconds if requested.
- Donate to the needy through organizations that distribute food to shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens. The federal Good Samaritan Act protects people that donate food from potential legal liability. Your facility may also be eligible for federal tax credits from food donations.
- Ensure proper storage techniques.
- Separate foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that do not. Ethylene promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage.
- Foods that produce ethylene gas while ripening include bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, and green onions.
- Keep the following foods separated from ethylene-producing produce to avoid premature spoilage: potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries, and peppers.
- Keep your fridge, freezer, and storerooms organized so you can clearly see foods and know when they were purchased.
- Use the first in, first out (FIFO) method when stocking your fridge, freezer, and storeroom.
- Utilize resources to help reduce waste. Below are some helpful tools from The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- A Guide to Conducting and Analyzing a Food Waste Assessment https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/r5_fd_wste_guidebk_020615.pdf
- Waste Logbook. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/food-waste-log.pdf
- Reducing Wasted Food and Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/reducing_wasted_food_pkg_tool.pdf
According to the EPA wasted food wastes water, gasoline, energy, labor, pesticides, land, and fertilizers used to make the food. When food is thrown in the trash, we are throwing away much more than just food. By implementing a couple of strategies to reduce the amount of wasted food, facilities can cut costs as well as help reduce environmental impact.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Natural Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/food-waste
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/how-prevent-wasted-food-through-source-reduction