Ensuring Food Safety and Reducing Food Waste Go Hand in Hand

Table full of food

As consumer demands for sustainable food practices increase, more and more retailers and foodservice operators are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact.

We’ve seen this recently with the movement to ban plastic straws in 2018 and the rise in plant-based meat popularity in 2019. Many retailers and foodservice operators have adapted quickly to these types of changes and taken other steps to not only lessen their environmental impact, but also boost efficiency and profitability.

Yet as the industry look for ways to incorporate sustainable practices – particularly, reducing food waste – one key ingredient to both sustainability and overall business viability needs to remain top of mind: food safety. 

Minimizing food waste while maximizing food safety

Reducing food waste is a hot topic for our industry, and for good reason. Roughly one-third of all food produced in the world is being wasted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. An analysis from ReFED shows that around 40% of food waste is generated by consumer-facing businesses, such as restaurants and retailers.

According to a recent sustainability report from the National Restaurant Association, one of the top trends impacting menus is food waste reduction. The report also found that around half of diners say they consider establishments’ efforts to recycle and reduce food waste when choosing where to eat.

Beyond meeting consumer demands, there are financial incentives for retailers and foodservice operators to invest in waste-reduction practices. According to the Food Market Institute, the U.S. retail food sector loses $18 billion a year in lost value from food waste. One study found that restaurants save on average $7 for every $1 invested in kitchen food waste reduction practices, thanks to reduced purchase costs, increased revenue from new menu items developed from leftovers and lower waste management costs.

To reduce food waste, operators are taking measures such as tracking how much they throw away, donating leftover food and composting. As kitchens introduce these new processes, it’s critical that there is are strong, foundational food safety practices to minimize potential risks

Here are a few ways foodservice operators and retailers can incorporate food safety into their waste reduction efforts:

  • Food safety protocols: When looking to donate food, it’s important to develop and implement procedures and training to ensure that food is prepared, stored, transported and served in a way that reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Specific focus on proper temperature controls, date marking and labeling, proper packaging and logging donations and pickup are key. Many retailers, such as Albertsons Cos. are leading in this space. They partner with Feeding America, food banks and local relief agencies to donate unsold food. A key to their success has been developing the right pickup processes to ensure safety and freshness.
  • Composting: To reduce pest and potential sanitation issues, ensure that you have the right containers with effective closures that are large enough to keep up with the volume of compostable material. Anything that is designated for compost should be kept within these containers, and the containers should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
  • Food safety culture: A great deal of food waste is a result of spoilage and inadequate food safety practices. One way to combat this is to have a strong food safety culture at all levels of your organization that ensures alignment between best practices and day-to-day operations. This has been an area of focus for Ecolab, and we’ve created a food safety culture assessment and expanded our training capabilities to help our customers continue to strengthen their food safety practices.

Sustainability is only growing in importance, presenting new challenges and opportunities for the food industry. That’s why organizations like the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) are so critical as a way to collaborate and share information with each other – and ultimately, deliver safe food to consumers worldwide.

At Ecolab, we’re excited to help our customers and the food industry continue to evolve and grow to ensure we can continue to deliver food in a safe, sustainable way. 

About the Author

Adam Johnson headshot

Adam Johnson

Vice President and General Manager, 

Global Food Retail Services

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