A Guide to Reducing Food Waste for Contract Caterers

Posted by Wanda Criswell / 23-Jun-2023

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Reducing food waste in contract catering is a topic of increasing importance. Strategies aimed at creating a zero-waste kitchen are becoming more prevalent. Winnow has found that on average commercial kitchens waste 5-15% of all food purchased and around 70% of this waste occurs before the food has even reached customers. Monitoring waste using innovative technologies, such as Winnow, helps to identify major sources. This data can then be used to develop initiatives to reduce waste and save thousands of dollars. Through waste reduction, catering businesses can meet their sustainability goals. As clients are becoming more environmentally conscious, this will help form stronger partnerships. Reducing food waste is a win-win situation for businesses and has a positive impact on the environment.

Click to watch how Compass Benelux and Winnow cut food waste by 30%

In today's world, the drive for sustainability and a commitment to net-zero goals are not just ethical considerations but have become business imperatives. More and more clients are actively working towards hitting these targets and looking for partners who can contribute to their journey. One key element of their emissions calculations falls within the scope three emissions, which includes indirect emissions like the waste produced in the food services they contract. Catering companies that can demonstrate effective strategies for reducing these emissions, particularly those related to food waste, find themselves in a strong position to support their clients' sustainability targets while also reducing their operating costs. This is where adopting a smart solution like Winnow Vision can play a significant role, providing the data visibility to identify and eliminate major sources of waste.

It's important to acknowledge that many of your clients, especially in this age of heightened environmental awareness, have sustainability targets to hit. They're looking to work with partners who mirror their eco-conscious ethos and contribute towards their goals. So, if your business can demonstrate its commitment to reducing waste and supporting a sustainable food system, you will appeal to these clients. In fact, you'll be facilitating a win-win situation where you're hitting your targets, helping your clients hit theirs, and strengthening these valuable relationships in the process.

Cutting down waste doesn't simply mean throwing less food away. It involves careful planning, creative thinking, and disciplined execution of those plans. With our experience in reducing food waste, we're excited to provide you with this guide to creating a zero-waste kitchen.

Overproduction of meals can be an even more significant contributor, accounting for 30-70% of a kitchen's food waste. Any food that was prepared but never got served and then is thrown away counts as overproduction. This area can be managed by a deeper understanding of customer demand and consumption patterns. The first step is to keep track of what customers are not eating, and any patterns in food items being thrown away. Then you can understand customer preferences and make appropriate adjustments. We recommend leaning towards on-demand food preparation wherever feasible and avoiding buffets. Another tip is to tweak the menu to remove dishes that are not popular with your patrons. These steps can contribute greatly to cutting down overproduction.

One significant area to tackle in reducing waste is managing inventory. Spoilage accounts for approximately 10-15% of the total kitchen waste. The technique known as FIFO, or First-In, First-Out, can be of great use here. This involves labelling items with the date they entered your kitchen. By using the oldest items first, you can reduce the occurrence of spoilage. 

Another tip is to examine the expiry dates of items before you order them. This helps to ensure their shelf life is long enough so you can use them before they go off. Overstocking leads to spoilage, so identifying frequently discarded items helps reduce waste. 

The next topic is food trimmings. These are the leftover parts of food, usually discarded during the preparation process. They include fruit and vegetable peels, tops and stems, meat and fish bones, and other scraps that are not typically consumed. Trimmings make up around 15-20% of total food waste in commercial kitchens. 

There are several ways to reduce trimmings - our favourite is using foods that require less trimming. Examples of these include apples, strawberries, cherries and grapes. Additionally, serving fruits with their peel can save time, labour and reduce waste. Getting creative is an effective way to reduce trimming waste. They can make your food more appealing if used as a garnish. Alternatively, use your trimmings in broths to add nutrition and flavour to your dishes. 

Turning to plate waste - uneaten food left on customers' plates - is another area that needs keen attention. To curtail this type of waste, you can encourage customers to take only what they will eat -encouraging them to return for seconds if they want more. Another step is adjusting the menu regularly based on feedback and observations. If one dish is being thrown away more than others, change it up to see what your customers prefer and so reduce waste.

Introducing reworking to your kitchen can help reduce waste and food costs. Reworking involves repurposing unused ingredients and unserved food into new dishes. Enhancing the creativity and flexibility of your menu can help to reduce food waste. For instance, surplus roast chicken could be reinvented into a chicken salad or soup the next day. Similarly, excess vegetables can be transformed into a stir-fry or used for making vegetable stock. However, food safety should remain paramount. It is important that unused and leftover food is stored correctly to prevent foodborne illnesses. 

Coupled with mindful inventory management, strategic use of trimmings, monitoring overproduction, and managing plate waste, reworking helps move us towards a sustainable, zero-waste kitchen.

To truly excel in waste reduction, it's vital to maintain a proactive, data-driven approach. Tools like Winnow reports offer valuable insights into waste patterns, helping you track waste and identify major sources. Highly consistent tracking ensures accurate insights.

And while we provide these tips and strategies, it's important to remember that not every kitchen is the same. Each one has its unique challenges and advantages. Therefore, adapt these strategies according to your needs. Find what works best for you and feel free to experiment.

Reducing food waste is a continuous journey, one that requires commitment, creativity, and persistence. However, the rewards are well worth the effort. By minimising waste, you're reducing costs, meeting your sustainability targets and making a tangible difference in the fight against food waste. It's a journey towards a greener, more sustainable food system, and every step counts. 

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