With 3.6 million tonnes of food being wasted by the food industry each year in the UK, and with more than two million tonnes of that still being edible, now is the time to make a change and positively impact our environment says food safety expert, argues Ben Gardner (pictured), CEO of Navitas Safety (food safety provider to the likes of Deliveroo, Five Guys and Tesco).
The global food waste issue is one that resonates with people everywhere. From hotels and restaurants through to the general public, sustainability is now at the forefront of everyone’s minds, particularly following last year’s supermarket shelves shortages (during the pandemic), and the release of impactful Netflix documentaries such as Seaspiracy and Down To Earth with Zac Efron. However, the food and hospitality industries in particular can do a lot to reduce food waste and in the process help promote a circular food economy.
In the UK, 8.4 million people are struggling to eat due to financial hardship, so not only is the amount of food wasted each year hugely damaging to the environment, it could go towards feeding those in need first. In doing so, this would reduce food waste as well as contribute to a reduction in the number of people going hungry.
It is time for restaurants, hotels and the entire food and beverage industry to monitor and forecast stocks more efficiently in order to make a change.
Restaurants alone contribute almost 200,000 tonnes of food waste each year, which consequently costs businesses around £682 million each year. Although the largest amount of waste comes from agricultural and household means, the hospitality and food industries must also do their bit.
It must also be said that some waste in food is inevitable, and WRAP studies suggest that around 26% of all restaurant food waste cannot be avoided. However, between 50-80% of food is still being wasted and there is a lot of work still to be done.
Reducing food waste
There are several reasons food is wasted. However, each can be prevented to some extent.
Preparation, customer leftovers and overproduction are just some of the leading causes of food waste within food industries. At times, it can be difficult to know just how much food can be needed, resulting in more being prepared than is actually required.
Unsurprisingly, due to its need to remain fresh, potatoes, fruit and vegetables are recognised as the most wasted products with almost 50% of food waste in restaurants coming from these products.
In previous years, buffets have been a prime example of this, as not only does a large portion of this get wasted by the business, but by the consumer, too. All too often, customers load up their plates with eyes bigger than their bellies, leaving much of their serving to end up in landfill.
In many ways, the pandemic has helped reduce this as the need for increased safety measures such as social distancing and new serving methods has helped to minimise touch points, meaning catering companies have been able to reduce menu’s and cut down food waste.
Businesses can also aim to reduce their contribution to food waste by implementing digital food safety strategies into their workplace. Utilising online databases, compliance calendars and automatic temperature checks will allow hotels and restaurants to monitor stock whilst keeping produce fresher for longer.
Although reducing food waste is a global issue and a hugely crucial one at that, it is just as important for businesses to ensure that their food remains safe to eat and consume. Therefore, if food is cross-contaminated or any spillages occur, the food should be discarded immediately as the health and safety of consumers is paramount.
If a business is able to reheat food, then they must make sure they have the correct equipment to do so. Some foods will be able to be reheated or be used the next day, so I urge businesses to use food as long as it remains fresh, safe, and fit for consumption.
Not only will this result in a better environmental impact, but it will cost businesses far less, too.
The future of food waste
The coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted all of our lives in one way or another. However, something it has positively contributed to is the state of our planet. As well as improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and generally slowing down the usual impacts on our environment, Covid-19 has also limited the amount of food ending up in landfill - call it a silver lining.
Whilst none of us would want to relive the events of the past year, it has taught us to be more mindful and to focus on sustainability. Restaurants and hotels have spent the last 18 months offering reduced menus, which has also resulted in less wasted food, which is something they many consider continuing for the future. Or perhaps, alternating menus on a weekly basis is the way forwards? This has both saved businesses money and limited their contributions to food waste and is something I predict will be utilised beyond the days of the coronavirus.
Businesses within the food and hospitality industries should seek new ways to monitor current stock as well as ways to forecast new stock. Digital food safety allows businesses to do exactly that whilst improving cost-efficiencies and promoting a circular food economy for the industry.