More than $30 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada each year, and more than half of that waste happens as it is produced, processed, transported, sold, prepared and served, according to Ontario based consulting firm Value Chain Management International’s (VCMI) annual “Food Waste in Canada” report. But by reducing food waste, businesses can reduce operating costs by 15 to 20 percent and increase profitability by the equivalent of 5 to 11 percent.
Remember that no piece of food needs to become waste. With creative thinking and some ingenuity, you can minimize losses and improve efficiency and profitability.
1. Plan ahead to reduce waste
“Spend time to plan the amount you intend to purchase based on factors including weather, events, proximity to your restaurant, and historical purchasing patterns,” advises John Placko, culinary director at Modern Culinary Academy in Toronto.
By cooking with the seasons, chefs can reduce food waste. “Buying produce seasonally is a great way to ensure that your menu is on-trend and it lowers costs and maximizes the life of produce,” says Kyla Tuori, corporate chef, Canada, Unilever Food Solutions. Ingredients that are out of season have made a longer journey and have a higher risk of spoilage. Consider frozen, dried, bottled or canned goods instead of fresh if comparable quality can be achieved.
Kyla recommends using scales to measure out ingredients as well as portions. “Your recipe should always be the basis for your selling price. It’s not unusual for an over-service of more than 40 percent to occur.”
2. Use all the trimmings
“Especially with the increased popularity in plant forward diets, utilizing all parts of the vegetable is more important than ever,” Tuori says. “Roasting carrots and using the greens to make pesto or pickling beets and using the tops for salad greens is a great way of reducing waste.”
3. Reuse leftovers
Use extra meat and vegetable trimmings to enhance stocks, soups, and sauces. “This will also ensure that your recipes have a more robust and flavourful quality,” Kyla says. “Try preparing smaller batches, and freezing or refrigerating, then re-heating as needed. This will ensure that there is minimal waste at the end of the day and you are only using what’s needed.”
If it’s a vegetable, you can cook the excess, purée it and freeze it for use in a soup, sauce, dip or other application for your menu, John Placko says. If it’s a fruit, purée it and pack it into a small bag and freeze it down for a specialty cocktail or dessert sauce. Excess food can also be sliced thinly, dried in a dehydrator and used as a wafer on selected dishes.
Toronto-based chef and culinary consultant Kira Smith recommends keeping a keen eye on ingredients and their lifecycle to manage usage and considering innovative culinary opportunities. “Think about how you can change the form of leftover ingredients or prep waste to maximize use,” she says.
4. Give bread a second life
There’s no reason to put your bread in the bin when there are so many ways to think outside the bread box, says Rachel Winters, former Regional Sales Manager, Eastern Canada for Boulart.
“Cutting back on food waste is as important as it’s ever been. Not just for your bottom dollar, but also for the greater good.”
Before you throw out your stale bread, consider how bread can enjoy a (profitable) second life as…
Tuscan Bread Soup
5. Keep an eye on plate waste
Although some people will take home their unfinished meal, what about those who don’t? What about the resulting plate waste?
“Encourage your servers to take note of plate waste,” Kira Smith suggests. “Is there any consistency in the items that result in ongoing waste, and is there an option to offer a ‘half portion’ of these items on the menu?” You may be able to price half portions higher than one-half of the full price.
“Investing in back-of-house staff with a slightly higher skill set will enable them to prepare items that can drastically reduce food waste,” Kyla says. “Vegetable trimmings can enhance convenience stocks, meat trimmings can be made into sausages, and fruit/vegetable trimmings can be made into condiments or jams.”
Track and reduce your food waste, including the waste that doesn’t even make it to the plate, and compost unusable leftovers whenever possible.
Consider turning your leftover par-cooked risotto into arancini for an appetizer special
Turn overripe fruits into purées for sauces and dressings
Toss long strips of carrot peel in oil and seasonings, or bake them until crisp and use as a salad garnish
Zest your citrus fruits before juicing and use the zest to make citrus sugar or to infuse flavour into honey or vinegar