LeanPath had the pleasure of discussing food waste reduction at MassRecycle’s recent Recycling and Organics conference with a specific focus on source reduction at food service organizations.
We partnered with Sean Canny, Boston College Dining Services’ Assistant General Manager, who described BC Dining’s learning journey regarding food waste prevention since partnering with LeanPath in 2014.
With a high-volume operation (over 25,000 transactions per day) and a strong focus on sustainability, the BC Dining team realized the importance of focusing at the top of the food recovery hierarchy – on prevention – and the need to establish a process to track and measure food waste to get actionable data for change with an engaged culinary staff. In other words: Measure, Analyze, Optimize, and Empower.
After seeing LeanPath in action at another school, they initially commenced with their own pilot at one facility at Boston College.
Canny noted that with LeanPath, BC Dining was Immediately able to address several cases of “low-hanging fruit” – reducing waste through responsible repurposing. He pointed out that “just having the [LeanPath] scale was a huge paradigm shift,” prompting a change in emphasis from downstream actions such as composting to upstream actions of recovery and prevention. Further, BC Dining realized the potential for labor savings as the small amount of time devoted to tracking excess food transactions was far less than the costs of producing and handling that ultimately wasted food throughout the operation.
The kitchen team was quickly engaged. After training and experiencing early successes, staffers began actively looking for additional ways to reduce food waste.
Canny pointed to “the power of the picture” provided by the LeanPath system for each transaction – noting that the team immediately realized situations where they were simply ordering too much food – food that would eventually go to waste.
He described their primary waste culprit – the salad bar – and efforts to address it. Like buffets, the salad bar is a challenge in all institutional kitchen environments for many reasons, but primarily because of the standard belief that it must look as full to the person who enters the dining facility at five minutes before closing as it did for the person who entered just five minutes after the meal service started. Team members came up with solutions to consolidate trays, giving “the appearance of full” while actually having less food out.
In two weeks, the team was able to cut salad bar waste in half, eventually reducing it by 95% with continued changes based on data. A similar change involving the layout of dessert items resulted in reduced waste as well.
In support of LeanPath’s belief that front-line kitchen workers are the true food waste changemakers, Canny also commented on the power of ideas and noted that most of the suggestions driving food waste reduction at BC Dining come from front-line staff. That suggests an engaged workforce, one that will look for improvements in other areas as well.
BC Dining has created a culture of change and continuous improvement in which no idea is a bad idea. The mindset of staffers has changed such that when chefs see individuals carrying trays of excess food in the kitchen, they stop and ask questions. The mindset is one of responsible usage, where food is put to its highest purpose – feeding people – and not carelessly discarded.
The program quickly paid for itself in terms of reduced food costs and operational efficiencies. Canny noted that large containers of food waste were reduced from four to one daily, while overtime dollars were reduced in one area due to reduced production.
Based on initial results, BC Dining expanded the LeanPath program to its catering department and two additional dining halls in 2015. In just over three years, they report reducing food waste by 60 percent compared to initial baseline data (over $400K in waste avoided).
The paradigm shift achieved with LeanPath’s tracking process is enabling BC Dining to address the most impactful driver of food waste -- overproduction – proving that valuable knowledge is not only being gained on BC’s campus, but in its kitchens as well.