If Zero-Waste Cooking is not on your menu, it’s time to step up to the plate and bring your business’s fighting-food-waste program up to date. One of several new strategies to combat the ongoing issue of food wastage in the foodservice industry, this one ranks number three on the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot Culinary Forecast.”
Creatively Cooking with Food Scraps
Highlighted by the news headlines “Chefs Tap Zero-Waste Cooking As Sustainability Trend for 2019,” these latest efforts involve making dishes from scrap ingredients that would otherwise be headed straight for the dump (and then to the landfill). The name of the game is to creatively cook with discarded items such as broccoli stems, fish heads, damaged apples and bananas, used coffee grounds, and ‘leftover anything.’ Many discarded fruits and vegetables are rejected merely for their funky look or outside-of-the-norm appearance when they are otherwise perfectly edible. So, while food waste is practically inevitable in the foodservice business, best practices to control or minimize the damage help.
Global Food Waste Trends Update
Ongoing innovations in this area are essential given the still-startling statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claiming that 30-40% of food produced in the United States ends up in the trash. On the flip side, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, fixing global wasteful trends could recover enough food to feed the world’s over-820 million undernourished people twice over. This is why the USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered and issued a joint challenge of cutting food waste in half by 2030.
What Your Foodservice Can Do to Reduce Waste
So, what can you and your foodservice do to rise to the occasion in 2019? As always, it begins with a resolution to monitor operations and pay attention to areas where waste is known to be rampant. If you have not yet taken this issue seriously, begin with the following familiar culprits (right before we sink our teeth into new ways to put your ‘trash’ to good use):
- Excessive portion sizes (which end up being scraped off of diners’ plates)
- Excessive rushing or inadequate facilities that lead to food and beverage spills
- Over-peeling fruits and vegetables
- Excessive packaging of ingredients
- Failure to cut back on disposable goods or use only eco-friendly, biodegradable utensils and food containers (made partially or fully from renewable biological sources)
- Failure to audit inventory to know what dishes your customers order most frequently and avoid over-purchasing unnecessary products
Fighting Systemic Food Waste in Unique Ways
The efficiency and monetary gains your establishment will benefit from are not the only rewards reaped by paying attention to waste. The fact is that issues of sustainability have permeated consumer consciousness, giving rise to a generation that cares about what your restaurant is doing to conserve, to compost, to befriend the environment, and to innovate in the war against waste. So much so that these issues have become a determining factor in restaurant selection by millennials – today’s largest eating-out demographic.
Thanks to the team from SPINS, which tracks food wastage trends in the marketplace, here are some modern methods implemented by some brands that use “upcycled products” to reduce the volume of their waste bins.
Making Upcycled Products Edible
The following innovations were featured at this year’s 39th annual Natural Products Expo West (the world’s largest natural/organic/healthy products event):
- Earning the NEXTY award for Best New Organic Beverage Sustainable, the Organicgirl company that offers green teas and drinks that contain a pound of juiced romaine lettuce and continue to create nutritious beverages using highly perishable produce
- The Barnana company upcycles imperfect bananas by turning them into plantain chips and other savory snacks
- Maple syrup company Runamok partners with distilleries and breweries to use barrel-aged byproducts such as cardamom mash (aka mashed sweet potatoes) to created infused maple syrups with unique flavors
Waste Not Want Not: Turning Brewers’ Spent Grain into Nutritious Ingredients
Have you ever thought about giving the hops in your beer a new jump? We are talking about brewers’ spent grain (BSG), one of the main byproducts of the beer-making process that is normally discarded and ends up in landfills. Alternatively, some breweries offload their spent grain to nearby farms where they are used as animal feed.
Now, breweries the world over are repurposing spent grain into ingredients such as flour, bread, pasta, granola bars, and more. Comprising 85% of the byproducts generated from making beer, spent grains are high in nutrient value and can also be used as a source of sugar to produce bioethanol (an alternative fuel made solely from renewable plant resources) and for the production of biogas – a type of biofuel that is one of the most widely used alternative sources for producing renewable energy from the decomposition of organic waste.
Beer Byproducts Tackle Food Waste
So how does it work? During the beer-brewing process, grains such as barley are steeped in boiling water, releasing sugars that are then fermented with yeast to produce alcohol. The leftover now sugar-free grains consist almost entirely of fiber and protein. Moreover, according to experts they contain more fiber than barley flour and more protein than quinoa.
What are some of the challenges involved in reprocessing spent grains? Number one on the list is turning the grains into edibles in a timely fashion because after the grains leave the brewers’ tub, there is only a short window of opportunity before microbial growth begins, after which the grains cannot be used. Another problem is that the technology to make the entire process economically feasible, in terms of both time and money, is still underdeveloped.
How Kelloggs is Using Rejected Cornfood wasteflakes to Make Beer
Turning the tables, the chefs over at Kellogg’s are using their spatulas to flip the script by making beer from rejected food waste. Specifically, the famed breakfast food company in the UK has teamed up with Manchester’s Seven Bro7hers Brewery to create beer made from cornflakes pieces that are too big, too small, or overcooked. Explained by Kate Prince, corporate social responsibility manager for Kellogg’s U.K.: “Kellogg’s is always exploring different and sustainable ways to reduce food waste in its factories… Kellogg’s is working hard to eliminate food waste in our manufacturing processes and give our consumers the wholesome products they love with minimum impact on the planet. Our approach has delivered a 12.5 percent reduction on food waste in our U.K. sites this year.”
Rescuing Bread Loaves from the Waste Bin
Over in Belgium, one brewer began taking the old adage, ‘everything old is new again,’ to heart by using one of the oldest beer brewing techniques – making it from bread – to combat modern food waste. So how does he turn bread loaves slated for the trash bin into a palatable brew? Explaining the process and sweetening the pot by giving us a bonus beer history lesson, here is what Sebastien Morvan, one of the founders of the Brussels Beer Project microbrewery, has to say: “12% of food waste in Brussels is bread. It’s quite astonishing.” While no longer a common ingredient, in ancient beers bread was the primary source of grain. The oldest surviving beer recipe, dating back 4,000 years to Mesopotamia, still uses loaves of bread.
Following in the steps of the ancient tradition, the Brussels Beer Project teamed with a local project, Atelier Groot Eiland, to gather unsold bread from local markets in the hopes of working out a recipe with a ratio of bread-to-barley that would produce the right yeast strain and appeal to modern palates. They also faced the challenge of perfecting a way to cut the bread loaves so that they wouldn’t clog their modern brewing equipment. The savory results? A 7% amber brew described by Reuters as having a hoppy finish with a subtle salty bread taste. Making the world ‘a better place one pint at a time,’ Morvan tastefully sums up: “It’s fusion between maybe what they used to do with bread 1,000 years ago and contemporary brewing.”
Finally, giving you and your chefs some more food for thought, one Australian brewing company uses leftover fruits and veggies such as strawberries, blueberries, ginger, and sweet potatoes to create a series of unique beers, while a Washington D.C. company adds yogurt to the mix to create a real stir.
If you are wondering about the taste of granola bars, waffles, and pizzas now made from spent grains, Chef George Shannon, a lecturing instructor of culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), says that with due experimentation, spent grain can be a nutritious, delicious, and environmentally friendly ingredient to cook with.
Using Technology to Get Waste Smart
While the visual data from your dumpster can tell you more than you may have realized about your restaurant’s degree of food waste, nowadays it’s smarter to let technology do the measuring and monitoring for you. Not only will you save time, but the more-informed operational management insights will lower waste and waste costs while boosting efficiencies and your business’s profit margins.
Fortunately, new integrated technologies are on the rise, providing valuable benchmarking waste management data. As reported by Forbes, for example, Hungry Harvest is successfully using technology to combat food waste, and it all started with a simple Excel spreadsheet. The Baltimore-based firm that rescues surplus produce from wholesalers and farmers to sell to consumers, now uses technology to scrutinize the details of their food chain supply, which allows them to form a plan of action. Solving the supply and demand equation was the key to success, says company founder and CEO Evan Lutz, including knowing what customers are interested in consuming and what price strategies work for buying from farmers.
Reducing Food Waste: There’s an App for That!
Finally, adding icing to the cake, don’t forget to check out all the modern apps available, designed specifically to help foodservice professionals win the war against waste. Be sure to visit here, where Food Tank highlights 19 organizations featuring apps that turn food waste into food justice.
Some Final Encouraging Words
If you feel like your current efforts to cutback or curb trash in your establishment pale in comparison to the latest industry trends, do not despair or think you are not making a difference. According to food waste specialist Roni Neff, Ph.D., a researcher at John’s Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future, no effort should be discounted and even solutions lower on the hierarchy are important and necessary. When it comes to recovering food for human use, she says, “There’s just so much room for more intervention at every stage.”
While there is currently no ‘fight to the finish’ in the battle against food waste, every bite-size step you take is a recipe for success. Yesterday’s trash no longer has to be wasted.