Food waste is a huge problem across the nation. In fact, one report found that Americans squander the equivalent of $165 billion each yearby tossing out food.
Waste is especially prevalent in restaurants, where diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Large portion sizes are a big reason for this, but another contributor is that restaurants often keep more food than they need to ensure that everything on the menu is available. Lastly, many chain restaurants have inflexible rules that require them to throw out food instead of giving it to food banks.
The good news is that are a few new technologies that can help operators combat some of that food waste. Below are three tools to help their cause.
1. Food Cowboy
Food Cowboy uses mobile technology to safely route surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants to food banks and soup kitchens instead of landfills, said Barbara Cohen, co-founder of the program.
"Despite the careful food purchasing practices that restaurants employ, inevitably there are ingredients that remain unprepared or prepared food that is never served or sold," she said. "Rather than sending this food to a landfill, it can be donated to local charities that feed hungry people in the community. Through this one action, restaurants can demonstrate their concern for people and for the environment."
Along with the CSR credit they receive for being socially responsible, restaurants can also benefit from enhanced tax deductions when they donate, Cohen said. Donors may be able to deduct half the profits they lose on unsold food. For example, if the food donated cost $10 in ingredients and labor and would have sold for $16 for a profit of $6, the tax deduction would be $13 ($10 plus half the "lost" profits).
Cohen said that Food Cowboy simplifies the paperwork required to apply for enhanced tax deductions and also provides opportunities for alerting customers through social media about their community consciousness.
How it works
The platform uses technology to allow donors and charities to communicate efficiently, track donations, match donations to charities, e.g., hours of operation, loading dock size, cooler capacity, etc., and ensure that the requirements of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act are met so that donors get maximum protection.
"When a food retailer has food to donate their concern is that the food be moved quickly and safely," Cohen said. "It is imperative that the charities that come to recover the food be reliable and mindful of food safety."
Restaurants can register with Food Cowboy by downloading the free app or logging into the online system. They will then be connected to a local charity able to accept their donations. Then, anytime they have food to donate, they open the app and create a donation alert that tells the charity what is available and when it can be picked up. Their charity will confirm their interest in the donation, schedule a pickup and confirm when the food has been accepted. Along with the immediate confirmation paperwork, the donation management system provides all donors with a historical record of all donations.
To ensure that the restaurants’ needs are met, Food Cowboy requires that charities have food safety procedures in place for transporting, storing and serving food, Cohen said. Not only must donors certified food to be wholesome, but charities must as well.
2. The Eco-Safe Digester
BioHitech America recently introduced The Eco-Safe Digester, which reduces the amount of food waste in landfills and uses big data to track and improve an organization’s sustainability, according to a company press release.
How it works
It works as a mechanical stomach, combining heat, moisture and oxygen to enable microorganisms to break down waste into water, according to the company. Attached to a sewer line, the Eco-Safe Digester eliminates the need for smelly compactors and transportation of waste to landfills or compost facilities. It also provides the real-time data an organization needs to strategically cut back on food spending. Through its cloud intelligence, the system identifies trends and inefficiencies that lead to waste for a clearer view of waste management.
The Eco-Safe Digester can digest anything a human stomach can handle, including meat, fruit and vegetables, bread and dairy, eliminating up to 2,400 pounds of food waste in a day.
3. LeanPath Zap
LeanPath Zap is food-waste monitoring software that restaurant operators can use on their tablets Powered by LeanPath Online, the dashboard allows users to review a variety of info, incuding top-wasted foods and the top-loss reasons. They can also set up text-message alerts tied to specific waste parameters and receive a weekly summary of top-waste opportunities, according to the company.
How it works
Restaurant employees set up a station next to a kitchen scale or use it to record quantities. They answer a short series of questions to record what’s being thrown away and why. All of the data, including staff names food types and more, can be customized to each restaurant, according to the company.
Cohen said all restaurant operators should be passionate about combatting what she describes as a huge problem. It's not only the right thing to do, but it's what customers expect.
"We waste 40 percent of the food produced while more than 49 million Americans live in food insecure households — 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children," she said. "Approximately half of (consumers’) consumption is spent on food purchased away from home. As consumers become more aware about food waste, they are beginning to expect that restaurants and markets they frequent to address the problem appropriately by donating or composting food that can’t be sold."