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5 food waste questions I always get asked

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  ///  September 6, 2022


Questions. Everyone has them. I have been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of organizations and thousands of chefs and most of them have the same thing in common: they have a food waste problem and they want a solution for it. I get asked A LOT of questions. Most of the questions I get asked are about repurposing - like, “Chef, do you have a recipe for orange peels?” or “What do I do with leftover pizza dough?” Most of these types of questions have to do with chefs looking for recipes or ideas to creatively turn trim waste or overproduced food into a profit-generating menu item.  I am always happy to help a fellow chef find a solution.

Outside of being a consultant and a walking recipe database, I do get asked many questions that seem to resurface on a regular basis.  Below are the 5 most common questions that come up; let’s see if these solutions can apply to your kitchen.

  1. Is it better to buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables so I can cut down on the amount of trim waste that comes from my kitchen?
    Great question, and one that requires you to take a look at your operation and work with your vendors. On the surface, that answer is YES, it is better to purchase pre-cut or pre-peeled fruits/vegetables. You will reduce the amount of trim waste in YOUR kitchen. There will still be trim waste, but it's not going to be coming from your team -- it will be at your supplier's location. They will have the trim waste, and you get to deal with only the cleaned and trimmed product. 

    There are other things to consider when deciding if this is the best solution for your operation. First, is the increased cost of buying a pre-fab product less than the cost of having your team prepare it in-house? Does the pack size of the pre-fab product fit with your operational needs? Meaning, can you utilize all the product once you open the packaging before it goes bad? Is the quality of the pre-cut product equal to or better than what your team can produce? Do you have an outlet for trim waste that is consistent enough to deal with the amount of trim waste you produce? Remember, not all trim waste is inedible -- some of it can be utilized in your operation. Maybe you make the switch to just buy some items pre-cut, but not all.  Before you make that leap, you need to consider all of your options.

  2. What is the one best way to reduce food waste in my kitchen?
    I get this question more than you would think. Chefs are looking to change just one thing that will solve their food waste problem. I wish I had just one answer that would solve the issue for everyone, but that is not the case. The real answer to this comes in multiple, consistent actions that WILL greatly reduce your food waste if done correctly. First, TRACK all your waste. Second, DISCOVER what's driving your food waste by diving into the data to pinpoint the issues. Third, DRIVE changes within your operation that will help prevent those root cause drivers of the waste from occurring again. Fourth, REPEAT until the solution is reached.  It is a tried and true method of reducing food waste. It works, and it works well but there is no secret answer-- it is all about leveraging data, taking action, and changing behavior. That is the solution to reduce food waste.

  3. I have a hard time motivating my team to track their food waste. What is the trick to building a strong culture of food waste prevention?
    Changing kitchen culture is a hard thing to do. The culinary industry is entrenched in strict processes, traditions and culture. Changing any of these is a daunting task. But now is a great time for change with so many new people coming to this industry. I can tell you that the most important thing a chef can do to make the changes and build a culture of food waste prevention that will last is to DRIVE IT WITH LEADERSHIP. If the chef and leadership team cares about preventing and reducing food waste, the whole operation will follow. Build a transparent, non-punitive culture of tracking and reducing food waste and CELEBRATE as a team when you reach milestones. Want to change your culture? Change your mindset. It really is that easy.

  4. We compost all of our food waste here, so we are doing everything we can to reduce our food waste, right?
    Composting is NOT reducing. Composting is having a solution for the food that has been wasted but it is not reducing your food waste. I applaud operations that do compost. Composting food correctly whether it is in-house or through a local center that picks up food to be composted is not always an easy thing to do.  Instead of the focus being on composting, try shifting it to REDUCTION. If you focus on reducing the food waste coming from an operation, you won’t have to focus so much on what to do with all the food waste going to compost. Reduce first - then find alternative solutions like compost and donation.

  5. We don't track our waste here, I mean, is it really worth it? How much difference can one kitchen make in the big picture?
    Every solution starts with one small step.  My answer to this is always: One Kitchen at a Time. Every single kitchen on this planet can make a difference, no matter how big or small the operation is, there is always food waste coming from it. Whether your primary motivation is financial, environmental, or social, every kitchen has waste and every kitchen needs to do their part to reduce their waste. It starts with one kitchen at a time, each day, everyday.

To learn more about the environmental, financial and social benefits of preventing food waste, download our free e-book Why Food Waste Prevention Should be Your Top Sustainability Initiative


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Topics: LeanPath Experts, Kitchen Culture