• How much food is wasted during the festive season?

How much food is wasted during the festive season?

The festive season is a time of celebration and joy, best spent with family and friends. For the food service industry, it's also an excellent opportunity to capitalise on the most spend-happy time of year. But as the festive season kicks off and the challenge of food wastage rears its head for food service outlets, restaurants are finding themselves having to throw away massive amounts of produce.

According to new research, the average Australian adult spends $122 on food and $131 on alcohol each Christmas season, so it’s no wonder the festive season presents itself with challenges for restaurants. Chefs and operation managers can't tell the future, so how can they be expected to forecast exact patron numbers over two months of service? An accurate assumption of how many guests and type of meals they will serve during this time of year is simply not possible. The festive season is known for being a time of grandiose and excess, but at what level?

The facts:

Image of food being scrapped into the bin

Records show that a staggering 74% of food waste happens before the food is even sold. Key findings from a study conducted by Melbourne University (RMIT) also shows that 40% of food purchased for stock during the festive season ends up in the bins of restaurants, cafes and other food service businesses across the country. The same study also highlights a spike in food wastage during December and January, as more people dine out.

      • According to National Food Waste Baseline 2019 key findings include:
      • Food waste costs the Australian economy 20 billion dollars a year;
      • Five million tonnes of food waste ends up in landfill each year;
      • 20% of food bought for commercial purposes end up in the bin;
      • If we reduce food waste by 15%, the world would be able to feed 25 million people, which is more than the entire population of Australia;
      • An estimate of 10% of food waste is composted in Australia, with the rest ending up in landfill.

How to manage food waste in your kitchen:

Image of fresh food on a board

Food waste is, in many cases, unavoidable. After all, kitchens have to manage staff, run a busy restaurant and troubleshoot problems associated with over-production, spoilage and aesthetic specifications all at the same time. However, some of the main culprits of food waste in the hospitality industry comes from preventable actions that are very simple to fix.

There are many simple changes you can make in your restaurant’s kitchen during the festive season that will help minimise waste, cut costs and increase profits. Some of these ways include (but are not limited to):

1) Audit and review current waste:

Before you go and make drastic changes to your menu items and operations, review your current stock and wastage, so you know exactly where the product is coming from. Government website, Love Food Hate Waste says you can conduct this audit by:

      • In the months leading up to Christmas, collect three buckets – one for spoilage, one for plate waste and one for prep waste.
      • Before service, ask your staff to place waste in each corresponding bucket and record the quantities for each bin at the end of the day.
      • Record how many meals were served during service at the end of the day.
      • After the seventh day, add the total amounts for each of the three bins and the total number of meals served. You'll then be able to identify from what area most of your kitchen's waste is coming from.

2) Train your staff:

Correct food waste management starts from the top, so it's your responsibility to educate your staff correctly, especially those new to the industry. One way of instilling respect for food within your team is by teaching them to treat produce as if they’ve bought it with their own money. Your team are valuable assets when it comes to how much waste your restaurant outputs, so invest in their professional development by training them properly.

Image of food compost

3) Improve stock management:

Proper management of perishables is critical at this time of year. To ensure you're getting the most out of the food you've already bought, create a rotating refrigerator system. Often described as the ‘first in, first out’ method in Australian commercial kitchens, it's a simple process that requires a kitchen to date label crates and storage trays, so staff know what to use first.

4) Offer staff meals:

Christmas is a time of giving. If there are full meals leftover from a Christmas buffet function, offer it to your staff. It raises the morale and Christmas spirit within your team, which will show when they serve your customers. Always remember the flow on effect your actions have with your staff and customers.

5) Control your temperatures:

Keeping your produce at correct temperatures, both in preparation and storing, maximises it’s longevity and avoids spoiling. When reheating food, it must be at least 70 degrees Celsius for two minutes. Fridge temperatures should be kept between one and four degrees Celsius, freezers below -18 degrees Celsius, hot holding food at 63 degrees Celsius and cold holding food below eight degrees Celsius.

6) Compost:

Most of the food waste in Australian restaurant kitchens is organic, meaning plant or animal-based products. Develop a composting program that allows you to repurpose all spoiled products so that they can be used elsewhere. If you don’t have the time or resources to develop a sophisticated composting plan, invest in a commercial composter to efficiently compost your wasted food into a nutrient-rich liquid to fuel your kitchen garden or backyard vegetable patch.

7) Serve correct portion sizes:

Consumers love to leave a restaurant with a full belly, especially during Christmas, but they also hate wasting food. Serve reasonably sized portions, so you have less food coming back to the kitchen and ending up in the bin. One tip is to use cutlery and crockery that creates the illusion the plate seems fuller than it is. It's also helpful to offer environmentally friendly takeaway containers, so customers can take their leftovers home.

8) Feed those in need:

Photo is of the Food Bank organisation logo

The demand for food relief continues to rise in Australia, with four million people struggling with food insecurity. Work with organisations such as Food Collective to make sure those in need within your community are fed during the festive season. Food Collective is an initiative created by Unilever Food Solutions and OzHarvest that aims to reduce food waste, while also helping the community. There are many other food relief organisations in Australia also. Take Foodbank Australia, for example, who is the largest organisation of its kind, providing 70% of Australia's rescued food to those in need. Rather than throw perfectly edible food in the bin this Christmas, donate leftover produce to Foodbank here.

It's easy to forget about food items tucked deep within your reach in the refrigerator, especially during the busy festive season. It's also frustrating when food waste is out of your control, such as an unpopular buffet dish leftover from the Christmas party function, or an adventurous special option that turned out to be not so favourable with your patrons. But there are countless ways you can minimise your kitchen's waste footprint, regardless of how it came to be waste. It's all about ingenuity and thoughtfulness in how you treat your kitchen's waste during the festive season that's what really matters.

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