Many foodservice establishments don’t realize how much food they throw away every day because once the food is placed in a trash bag and hauled away, it’s out of sight and out of mind. But one company is working to make foodservice establishments more conscious of their food waste production via technologies that are designed to educate and lead to positive behavior changes.
LeanPath, a Portland, Ore.-based foodservice technology company, is dedicated to making food waste prevention a reality in foodservice establishments through measurement, which it views as the key to source reduction and food waste prevention.
“LeanPath is committed to getting to a point where food waste prevention is an everyday practice in the world’s kitchens,” says Andrew Shakman, CEO of LeanPath. “The way to get there is through measurement, which truly changes the way people think and work. Historically, food waste wasn’t measured because there were no tools available besides a very sophisticated technology called the pencil. But in 2004, LeanPath started creating easy-to-use technologies like scales, cameras and touchscreen devices that provide comprehensive portraits of what’s going into the landfill stream, the compost stream and even the donation stream. Some people look at their garbage or compost bins and only see garbage or compost, but we look at those bins and see ideas and opportunities.”
In 2017, the company tracked food waste in more than 1,200 foodservice kitchens in over 20 countries to paint a bigger picture of the state of food waste in foodservice establishments. LeanPath monitored 13 million pounds of food waste, and the data and imagery collected from the research revealed that overproduction is the main culprit of food waste generation in foodservice establishments. But while overproduction may be dubbed the largest issue, it’s also the primary opportunity for most foodservice establishments to reduce food waste and save money.
“Customers that work with LeanPath will walk away learning that source reduction matters and that overproduction needs to be a target,” says Shakman. “With overproduction, a lot comes down to risk management because operators are worried about running out of food and upsetting customers. That risk management causes operators and chefs to make too much food, but once they understand the problem of overproduction, they can start to overcome it and prevent it, ultimately saving money and cutting down on waste.”
Once overproduction is recognized as a problem, the first thing operators need to do is develop a proper forecast and comply with that forecast. Often, chefs will make five or 10 additional portions to play it safe, but those extra portions can lead to unnecessary food waste if they aren’t ordered and eaten.
The second thing the food preparers need to do is ensure that they are using proper knife etiquette to get the full yield out of the products they are buying, preparing and serving.
“Chefs should be using products for their intended purposes,” says Shakman. “Foodservice workers are often cruising along at a fast rate and not properly using a knife to get the full yield out of products, so teaching the workers how to properly use a knife is also key.”
Another way foodservice establishments can combat overproduction is through creative uses. Imperfect produce, for example, has a wonderful home in foodservice because customers never see the products in their raw form, says Shakman. Creative uses not only save food from going to waste but they also allow chefs to see the value in food instead of just the quantity.
These best practices need to start with the frontline teams, which LeanPath views as the global changemakers for the issue of food waste. Once the teams are empowered with the right tools and information, they can drive behavior change and raise awareness about the issue of plate waste, which is the other side of the spectrum of foodservice food waste.
“Customers of foodservice establishments also produce food waste because they may order too much or may be unaware of the establishment’s portion sizes,” comments Shakman. “We are raising awareness about this issue and working to resolve it with our product called Spark, which is a digital signage product that brings food waste data to life to spark positive behavior changes that prevent food waste.”
The purpose of Spark is to help engage customers to become part of the food waste solution. There is a perception that portion size is an indication of the value of the product, and LeanPath is working with foodservice establishments to get customers to think about value as quality, not just quantity. With this in mind, more and more foodservice establishments are offering more choices for customers, such as half portions or small, medium and large options, that sell the value of quality.
LeanPath is also helping foodservice establishments and their customers understand the role that food waste has in a circular economy.
“I envision a future where we are able to sell all of our food waste from our loading dock to the highest bidder because it will be so valuable for creating animal feed, energy or whatever it may be,” states Shakman. “That ties in well with the importance of measurement because you need to know how much food waste you are auctioning. With this concept, we can route the food waste to people who will use it as feedstock and build up more Smart Cities, which also play a large role in food waste prevention and reduction.”
The concept of Smart Cities is a growing trend, especially now that prevention is at the top of the waste reduction hierarchy. And as the world shifts toward a circular economy, Shakman believes this is the time for industries to come together to make significant strides in food waste prevention and overall waste reduction.
“It’s not about where we are today; it’s about where we are heading,” he says.