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The Appalling Amount of Food Waste in America

80 Billion Pounds

• 4 minute read

It’s not a subject that even crosses anyone’s mind when they scrape the leftovers from dinner into the trash. It doesn’t come up in conversation at the firm’s breakfast meeting as people toss their paper plates laden with uneaten doughnuts, baby sausage links or Danish in the trash. Americans think nothing of paying their bill at a restaurant and not taking leftovers home with them in takeout boxes. A new study has found that Americans toss about 80 billion pounds of food every year. Billion. Pounds. Studies have found that people throw out food according to the sell-by date, thinking that to keep it past that date would be unsafe. In restaurant news, the story is much the same: if a food is past its sell-by date, toss it or it could make someone sick.

The Studies

One study of 500 people found that although over half of the respondents felt guilty for wasting all that food, they also thought they wasted less than other people. The other half of the respondents said they’ have trouble reducing their food waste. The respondents were asked about the benefits (yeah, we thought that, too) of throwing out food. Over 70 percent of the respondents said food waste was necessary in order to avoid food-borne illness. Others in the study thought food waste was inevitable, because food needed to stay “fresh and flavorful”.

Researchers found that awareness of food waste was becoming sharper. Most people in the study felt guilty, because (a) they were contributing to environmental damages by wasting food and (b) they were also wasting money. The upshot of the study was that people thought the sell-by date on their foods meant they had to be thrown away lest illness result from eating them.

In a stunning contrast, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic have found through a study of their own that no one outside whomever stamps the date on a food knows exactly why. They found that companies can stamp a date on their products for their own reasons, leaving the general public to think that perfectly fine food will cause illness if eaten past their sell-by date.

What Does This Mean for My Restaurant?

Harvard’s study also discovered that employees were no better educated as to the efficacy of foods past their sell-by date. Employees, too, fear illness, and toss food not in the least damaged. Nine hundred million dollars in food is wasted each year in pursuit of good health. The Harvard study had a few ideas as to how to reduce all that food waste:

Manufacturers should keep freshness dates to themselves. Place public data in the same place in crystal clear language Freeze-by dates would be helpful for the public to freeze foods before they spoil Timing and temperature information would also be helpful for the public, placed in the same place in clear language Now, we’re pretty sure restaurant owners understand the need for recycling solid waste such as paper products, cardboards, glass containers and such. But what about recycling food? We don’t mean what has been eaten and scraped off someone’s plate. We mean the slice from the tomato that was bruised, the soft part of the cucumber you didn’t want in someone’s salad, and the ridged part of the squash you didn’t want to serve to anyone. Those pieces of food aren’t spoiled and can be upcycled into something else. Soups, for example, could contain these pieces plus the bruised potato, funky looking onion or the piece of beef tips that aren’t the bright red they should be.

Advising staff members to keep an eye on such food pieces and look for ways to upcycle them would cut down largely on your food waste. Did you know that food banks and soup kitchens for the poor and homeless ask restaurants for just such foods to feed their charges? Many churches do the same. Contact some of these in your area to find out how you can not only help the less fortunate, but also to cut down on food waste. These expenses can be written off as donations to charity.

We offer restaurants a system whereby orders are put in, cooked and served within a certain amount of time by use of colored screens. We, too, are appalled by the waste going on in this country. We’d like to hear some of your ideas for curbing it when you contact us to learn more about our system.

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