Skip to main content

Tips to Reduce Food Waste In Your Operation

tips to reduce food waste

The fight against food waste starts with your staff and your practices.

Do you know that most operations throw away 4 to 10 percent of the food they order before it even reaches a plate?

In 2013, the federal government launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on every member of the foodservice industry to help reduce the estimated 30 to 40 percent of food that gets thrown in the trash every year.
Since then, a number of states and municipalities have joined the fight against food waste, enacting food waste initiatives. Connecticut and Vermont became the first states to ban commercial food waste from landfills. Local municipalities - Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Seattle - follow similar bans, with New York City enacting theirs on July 1, 2015. Among them, Massachusetts’ new law - passed in October 2014 - restricts institutions who produce at least one ton of food waste per week from putting it in a landfill. 
Food waste is a big issue for colleges and universities. Second only to paper as the largest source of waste produced in the U.S., discarded food squanders agricultural resources and increases greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. It’s also a tremendous drain on your budget, wasting money you could put to good use elsewhere.

Ideas to Reduce Food Waste

Get Your Employees Involved

Staff buy-in is a key part of implementing a waste-reduction program. “A few people were resistant, but once they realized how easy it was, that changed.” recalls Dawn Aubrey, Director of Dining Services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U-I). U-I recognizes and rewards employees at its six dining halls and catering program with recognition and team celebrations. “Every unit has their own Stop Waste Action Team meeting once a week and daily pow-wows to look at data.”


It’s important to standardize your recipes and quantify them to the right yields. Purchasing the right product for the right use not only reduces waste, but helps keep you on budget.

Use as Much as Possible

Product trim can be a significant source of waste. Train kitchen staff to be deliberate with their cuts so they don’t throw away usable product. “It’s interesting how staff ‘police’ each other. If a co-worker is taking too much or trimming too much, they remind them that it will be weighed.” Audrey points out.

Other options include:

  • Use value-added, ready-to-use ingredients to eliminate trim waste
  • Cross-utilization to get the most value out of a product
  • Use leftovers in dishes the next day
  • Use product before it’s outdated

How Much Food are Your Students Leaving on Their Plates?

While many colleges and universities have moved to trayless dining as a means of reducing food waste, U-I saw an 80 percent reduction in post-consumer waste in doing so.
“Waste-Awareness Drives” highlight the plate-waste issue for staff and students, allowing students to request smaller portions if they desire. Consider controlling how much students are putting on their plates. Serving students, as opposed to allowing them to take as much as they like, keeps portion sizes - and costs - in check.
Prevention pays off. Shakman says the typical LeanPath operation shaves two to six percent off its annual food costs. University of Illinois reports an 8 percent reduction in waste in the first month of implementation and a 23 percent reduction in the first year. “The savings in food costs have been evident.” Audrey states. “We’re serving 600 more students this semester than we did last, and our food cost are flat.”

Reuse Food Waste

You can’t eliminate food waste entirely, but there are better ways of handling food waste than sending it to a landfill. View The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations for food waste.
Some of these options may not be available to you locally, but identify the resources that are and work with them to determine whether you can meet their requirements. Alternatively, you might blaze your own waste-reuse trail; some colleges and university operations are installing grinder systems to create their own compost and using it around their campuses.

For More Information

Ask your Gordon Food Service Customer Development Specialist about how the following food service solutions from Gordon Food Service can help with your waste reduction needs:

  • Inventory Manager software that can help streamline processes for proper inventory management, as well as stock monitoring and rotation policies that are critical to preventing spoilage and expiration-date losses.
  • Cycle Menu Management , an automated system that can aid in forecasting food needs by recommending purchase quantities based on your diet census.
  • LeanPath provides automated food waste monitoring systems arming operations with staff engagement tools and data to cut food waste in half.