“It’s often easier to waste food than to give it away which is simply absurd and unacceptable.” So said, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis on his visit to Ireland in May.
The Commissioner explained that he was born in a Soviet gulag and as a child, he could never imagine a day when the world would be challenged by something called food waste.
Well, that day has arrived and over one third of the world’s food is lost or wasted according to current estimates. In developing countries, over 40 per cent of food losses happen after harvest and during processing, while in industrialised countries, over 40 per cent of food waste occurs at retail and consumer level. Irish householders throw away between €700 and €1,000 worth of food every year.
On his visit to Ireland, Andriukaitis said that we are at the tipping point when the “unethical and anti-economic situation of food waste” has to stop.
That there are now 1.5 billion overweight/obese people compared to 1 billion undernourished people is a stark reminder of global over-consumption. An EU campaign to stop food waste is now under way and in Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency launched its Stop Food Waste charter in March, 2017 (stopfoodwaste.ie). One of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals also calls for a reduction of food waste by 50 per cent by 2030.
“By curbing the needless loss of precious natural and nutritional resources in the food value chain, we will also support the fight against climate change as food waste generates about 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says Andriukaitis.
In Ireland, hotels and restaurants are waking up to the economic losses incurred by food waste. “Every tonne of food waste from a hotel or restaurant costs that business between €3,000 and €5,000,” says James Hogan, programme manager of the EPA-funded Green Business programme.
“An average restaurant loses about €24,000 per year from food waste and an average hotel loses about €150,000 per year from food waste,” he adds.
Up until the 1990s, hotels and restaurants sent their food waste as swill to be fed to pigs. However, following the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreaks and foot and mouth disease in 2001, the practice of feeding waste food to animals was outlawed. A new EU initiative is looking at how to make items such as stale bread and broken biscuits available as animal feed.
Since 2009, hotels and restaurants are legally obliged to have brown bins for food waste. “Segregating food waste makes sense. It’s cheaper to send it in brown bins, and most hotels and restaurants are doing this but some are doing it better than others,” says Hogan.
Members of the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Local Authority Prevention Network met last week to look at ways to “turn food waste into profit”.
“It’s all about training staff to reduce food waste – finding out where food is being wasted and why, and seeing what you can do to change that, “ says Eileen O’Leary from the Clean Technology Centre at Cork Institute of Technology
Managing portion size is a key to reducing food waste, according to O’Leary. This includes having bowls of vegetables on the table rather than individual portions on each plate, looking at the size of plates used, offering half portions to customers who want it and encouraging people to take home what they leave on their plates.
Ollie Gleeson from Profitwatch carries out food waste audits to help hotels and restaurants reduce their food waste. “The big eye-opener for businesses is when they see all the food that has been wasted. We have reduced food waste by up to 69 per cent following these audits,” he explains.
These waste characterisation audits examine everything from how much food and of what quality arrives into the kitchen (compared with what was ordered) to how much comes back on customers’ plates. “We suggest weighing scales to prevent over deliveries, sealable containers for food that can be reused and serving smaller portions of sauces and side salads,” says Gleeson.
Communications between kitchen staff and front of house staff is a key, according to Gleeson. “The chefs need to know what’s coming back into the kitchen on people’s plates and also, it’s important to empower chefs not to give the same portion to constructions workers and older people coming in for their lunch in the middle of the day,” he says.
Annette Keenan from Keenan’s Hotel in Tarmonbarry, Co Roscommon, spoke about her experience of reducing food waste at the Turn Food Waste Into Profit seminar.
“People often think that they’ll have extra side orders like vegetables, garlic potatoes and chips but a lot of it comes back into the kitchen. Explaining the cost of each side dish and then asking customers whether they want extra sides encourages them to cut back,” she says.
Keenan adds that generally speaking, people tend to over order – particularly if they think they are getting it for free but this mindset is slowly changing. “People are getting more health conscious and portion size is the key, but we need to do food waste surveys every year to keep staff trained up on these issues,” she says.
Adrian Cummins, the chief executive officer of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, says that the customer is still king. “Restaurants are starting to look at food waste in terms of the lost profits but if a customer feels hard done by with small portions, you’re in trouble,” he says.
“The Irish palate is still looking for more food, rather than less, and there needs to be customer education on food waste. Our job is to provide food; it’s up to the State and health bodies to educate the customer on food waste,” he adds.
Facts on Food Waste
Twenty per cent of food produced in the EU is lost or wasted.
Food waste generates about 8 per cent of global greenhouse gases.
One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals calls for a 50 per cent reduction in food waste by 2030.
The annual cost of food waste for householders in Ireland is between €700- €1,000.
An average restaurant loses about €24,000 per year from food waste.
An average hotel loses about €150,000 per year from food waste.
In developing countries, over 40 per cent of food losses happen after harvest and during processing while in industrialised countries, over 40 per cent occurs at retail and consumer level. See also stopfoodwaste.ie and http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/stop_en