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United Against Waste – the online debate

04 November 2011 by
United Against Waste – the online debate

Are operators and suppliers doing enough to tackle our food waste problem? In an online debate, United Against Waste, in association with Unilever Food Solutions, Caterer and Hotelkeeper discusses how we can raise awareness in the industry. Amanda Afiya reports

Last week, Caterer and Hotelkeeper and our partner Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) joined forces to hold an online debate to discuss the impact of food waste on our industry and the environment. The United Against Waste debate examined the extent of the food waste problem, whether operators are doing enough to tackle it and explore what solutions are available. The debate follows the launch of the United Against Waste campaign by UFS last month to call on the industry to tackle the issue of avoidable food waste with a single voice.

To see the full transcript of the debate, go to www.catererandhotelkeeper.com/wastedebate. Below is an extract.


COMMENTS FROM THE LIVE DEBATE

What is the extent of the food waste problem in Britain's restaurants and hotels?

Chef Wynnstay We as an industry have been far too profligate over the years. I have bad memories of throwing away large amounts of perfectly usable food in a five-star hotel at the order of an obsessive sous chef.

Jane Carlton Smith In our experience (from a survey in the profit sector earlier this year), businesses are already separating and recycling lots of waste but the most challenging issue is disposing of food waste. Waste contractors are missing an opportunity - some are offering services but they are by no means nationwide.

Tom Tanner, SRA UK restaurants throw out 600,000 tonnes of food a year, 21 tonnes per restaurant. Not offering customers the chance to take leftovers home is bad practice.

Chris Barber I think there needs to be more governmental help - I can get food waste collected from my home, but not my restaurant businesses, which produce far more waste - where is the sense in that?

Surely any chef trying to achieve a good GP will manage his waste well, making sure portion sizes are accurate and disposal of produce is kept to a minimum?

Mike Hanson I think the thing that so many are guilty of is not recording waste so they don't really have any idea of what amount of waste is being produced. Because they don't know the volume they don't realise it's an issue. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

John Ellis By maintaining a constant alertness to the issue of over-production we establish our popular dishes while scaling back production of alternative dishes, while maintaining counter coverage.

Val Carter You are right that chefs do want to control their waste effectively and typically control portion sizes well, but another challenge they face is self-service areas such as salad bars. Getting the balance of waste management and presentation right can be a challenge for food service businesses.

Deborah Harvey, Pabulum We put a lot of effort into planning menus, so that they're not only delicious and healthy, but also minimise food waste. In addition, good menu planning helps us to ensure deliveries are consistent and regular (with fewer ad-hoc requests), which in turn helps to reduce road miles and ultimately reduce our carbon footprint. We've also found standardising recipes and being consistent with portions really helps to reduce food waste.

Tom Tanner, SRA Completing a waste audit is a really good way of understanding where your waste is coming from and then coming up with solutions - saving food and money.

Simon Macfarlane, Bite We have committed with our clients to measure the amount of food waste and agree by how much to reduce it in an agreed timeframe. We plan to publish the results so our customers can see what gets thrown away.

Looking at kitchen management first, before disposal, what tips do you have to help chefs manage waste during prep/mise-en-place?

Chef Wynnstay Albert Roux would begin every restaurant consultancy by standing at the waste bin for a service - surely this speaks volumes?

Gerard Jacob It's not just about portion sizes - it's also the foodstuffs that are wasted during production and elements that are classed as inedible. We need to use all of the vegetable - broccoli stalk, beetroot leaves etc.

Val Carter Our teams have targets for food waste based upon their "real" benchmark - we don't want the figures to go underground. We then send out regular reports on progress.

Lisa Hoare, UFS Tom has highlighted a Waste audit - this is a really useful tool for measuring and tracking waste, both back and front of house.

Mike Hanson Best way to know how much food waste there is is to weigh it, the chef won't like doing this and will soon work hard to cut down waste. Cost the waste out and calculate a sales value and therefore lost profit… an eye opener.

John Ellis @Lisa We complete weekly wastage checks, but obviously the key element is using the information to take effective action.

Sachin Sharma I think that the biggest issue is one of awareness or lack of it - food service companies typically not realising what their ‘true wastage' is and consumers not understanding the part they can play in effecting its reduction.

Chef Wynnstay The toolkit is a useful aide-memoire - a lot of responsible establishments will already be doing much of the kit, but it's a very good check on activity, and I think a lot of places that haven't really thought about waste up to now will find it very useful.

Chris Barber Chefs have to feel part of this, they (we) need to understand that we can make a difference - I worked hard on this Wise Up On Waste toolkit] project to make sure that we address and engage the people at the sharp end. It's all very well having a corporate policy, but unless the workers take it up, it can be a waste of space; so UFS have worked hard to engage the right people.

Thomas Jelley (Sodexo) We raise awareness through the Better Tomorrow Plan, with communication materials, a toolkit for sites that's being published soon, and an annual worldwide survey whose results are sent back to site managers so that they can benchmark what they're doing against their peers.

Tom Tanner, SRA Sachin's point about customer responsibility is an important one - more restaurants will respond if there's a customer demand for it, hence the SRA's Too Good To Waste campaign, reintroducing the doggy box to raise consumer awareness.

John Ellis @Tom there is of course the issue of Health and Safety when introducing doggy boxes. What are views on that?

Chef Wynnstay Some of us have been doing doggy bags for 20 or more years.

Guest As waste manager for a university I funded a week-long audit of food waste with the intention of purchasing a Rocket composter. I passed the results of the audit to the kitchen staff after which they made efforts to reduce their food waste. They were shocked at the weight of food they threw away weekly.

@cateringadvisor The safety of using doggy bags is surely down to the customer as soon as they leave the restaurant?

Tom Tanner, SRA Health and safety… We issue clear guidelines on the doggy box and delegate a degree of responsibility to diners.

Donna Lovitt, Unilever 400,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste in our industry, we all have to take responsibility.

Gerard Jacob Customers should be provided with the choice of small, medium or large portion sizes and then they pay accordingly - if you eat more you can have it and may have to pay a little more for it. Then it negates the need for doggy bags.

Mike Hanson The environmental benefits of using fresh food are well known - only cooking once, reduced packaging etc - but using fresh food also sometimes increases food waste - eg, peelings, bones, fish heads etc but often reduces packaging waste. Thoughts?

Val Carter These are all good points. Maybe we just need some standardised words that once food leaves us, it's not our responsibility any more. But better to avoid the problem and control portion sizes in the first place.

How can you get your local council to provide a better service, especially in these times of public sector cuts?

Chef Wynnstay As businesses, we need more than lip service from our local authorities regarding waste and recycling. The days of viewing commercial waste services as a cash cow to make up the budget shortfall are numbered.

@AndreiLussmann Most local authorities are useless here - they work with us domestically but yet [fail] to support our enterprises regardless of rates etc.

Grazia, Elior We have found the same problem with waste collection. In Swansea the local authority does collect business food waste at a reasonable fee - not everywhere in the UK does, though.

Chef Wynnstay I would like to send my food waste for composting, where practicable, harder to do in a rural area than you might think.

Lucy @Vegware Food waste recycling is a big growth sector, but driven by the private sector, not local authorities. We have set up a network to link up any UK caterer with their local food waste recycling services - e-mail composting@vegware.co.uk.

Duncan (Sustain) Does anyone here think that food hygiene legislation is a barrier to reducing food waste in kitchens?

Chris Barber Duncan, food hygiene, using leftovers - not a marriage made in heaven!

Mark Lewis At a recent waste seminar held by Unilever, one of the speakers hailed the baked potato as an exemplar of a tasty, nutritious, zero-waste meal. I think we need to promote other solutions around the industry more than we do.

@AndreiLussmann Educate chefs, reduce portions, keep menus simple and seasonal and motivate your punters to buy in.

Simon Macfarlane, Bite You only need one driver in a company to push the sustainable message, then create a team of co-drivers and the rest of the bus will follow.

Grazia, Elior Again we need to engage chefs and kitchen staff in all minimising practices and make those practices part of the daily management of the kitchen.

Tom Tanner, SRA Money may not be the purest of motivations for reducing food waste, but for many in the industry it will be the deal maker - and that is important.

John Ellis Equally important is educating the consumers' expectations and ideas. We've spent a lot of time educating our teams on using the less ‘fashionable' (but equally tasty) cuts of meat, which then has a trickle-down effect on consumers.

Lisa Hoare, UFS WRAP has a consumer campaign, Love Food, Hate Waste, which aims to educate the consumer.

Chris Barber All, as well as the audits, which are really important, we have a responsibility to question everything we do, and see if we can do it better… Back to the potato, why peel it if you don't need to? This is but one example, and talented chefs will come up with way more… given the encouragement.

Donna Lovitt, Unilever 8 out of 10 people would leave things off their order they know they won't eat if given the opportunity.

Jane Carlton Smith It has been received wisdom for years that caterers should or do use Grade 2 produce, but do you? Can you get hold of it via your suppliers?

Chris Barber It's a cultural thing, I have a house in Portugal and even in the supermarket they only sell knobbly veg… they wouldn't have it any other way

Mark Lewis I think you're referring to the EU-driven mania for straight cucumbers, bendy bananas and knobble-free potatoes. This is clearly lunacy.

Val Carter Grade 2 produce does get used but we don't have access to as much as we'd like. It is great for back of house production and we would love to have more available. Bring on the donkey carrots!

@AndreiLussmann Most veg suppliers in the South East can find graded-down veg if you ask - it's cheaper and often ready to eat.

Gerard Jacob Supermarkets have a huge part to play in this arena and they are more interested in how to present it on their shelves than the flavour/taste.

Duncan (Sustain) Perhaps we need to get a celeb chef to champion the carrot-shaped potato and vice versa (etc) - although I'm not sure that celeb chefs are a cure-all.

Deborah Harvey, Pabulum Client contracts could be more lenient as to the minimum grade of produce used - particularly local authority contracts.

Gerard Jacob When farmers have a contract to supply a supermarket they are not allowed to sell the produce the supermarket rejects and so it gets ploughed back into the soil as fertiliser.

Andrew Merrett Good point Deborah. Many tender documents specify Grade 1 products only.

Lucy @Vegware @Mark Lewis There's a brilliant bit of EU-driven mania - the landfill directive, forcing member states to maximise recycling. UK landfill tax rises mean that now composting food waste is cheaper and greener.

Charlie @ Footprint I think if we started educating diners as to the virtues of Grade 2 vegetables, we would see a shift in attitude.

Grazia, Elior But even if we use Grade 2 vegetables, if practices do not change we won't achieve any benefit.

Gerard Jacob As customers we should request from our suppliers Grade 2. Why should they be graded just because they are a bit knobbly? Yes Andrew, that is what people should go away with today as the main objective.

Val Carter I think for Grade 2 you use them in back of house dishes such as soups and stews.

Chris Barber Deborah, et al, we (the nation) are all to blame for this nonsense; maybe we can persuade the marketeers that uniformity isn't necessarily a good thing, food lasts longer than a day, and saving waste is about saving the planet, not just the pennies!


Tips to reduce food waste

â- Caterers should be disciplined when filling in purchasing lists and use the same unit configuration as their supplier, eg, list as one case or one crate, as featured in the price list.
â- Be creative - knowing that some dishes move faster than others, and some ingredients are more perishable, use specials boards and daily menus to promote dishes.
â- Always keep an eye on sales reports; even if your personal favourite dish is not selling, be ruthless and cut it. It is better to react by changing things quickly before waste and losses kick in.
â- Ensure your staff are well prepared and briefed on waste management - they play a key role in implementing guidelines.
â- Try vacuum packing products. It extends shelf life and reduces odour so it reduces the risk of them spoiling other products.
â- You don't necessarily need to offer a separate menu for children, just smaller portions.
Source: Unilever Food Solutions

during the debate we conducted four online polls - here are the results

Doggy bags/boxes: yes or no?
Yes 77%
No 23%
Do you get the right level of support from your local council over food waste collection?
Yes 9%
No 91%

Does anyone here think that food hygiene legislation is a barrier to reducing food waste in kitchens?
Yes 77%
No 23%

Does any responsibility for food waste lie with consumers?
Yes 60%
No 40%


the UNITED AGAINST WASTE DEBATE - WHO TOOK PART
John Ellis, Ampersand, CH&Co
Val Carter, Aramark
Lucy Frankel, Vegware EcoPackaging
Tom Tanner, Sustainable Restaurant Association
Gareth Johns, Wynnstay Arms, Machynlleth
Jane Carlton Smith, Responsible Hospitality Partnership
Thomas Jelley, Sodexo
Chris Barber, Leiths Food Solutions
Mike Hanson, BaxterStorey
Deborah Harvey, Pabulum
Simon MacFarlane, Bite Catering
Andrei Lussmann, Lussmans restaurants, Hertfordshire
Gerard Jacob, Vacherin
Lisa Hoare, Unilever Food Solutions
Charlotte Henderson, WRAP
Sachin Sharma, Compass Group
Andrew Etherington, independent catering consultant
Siobhan O'Neill, freelance writer
Karen Browne, William Murray Communications
Donna Lovitt, Unilever Food Solutions
Gwen Powell, food waste consultant
Grazia Dal Fara, Elior
Kat Thayer, People 1st
Duncan O'Brien, Ethical Eats
Russell Brown, Sienna, Dorchester
Christopher Stourton, Footprint
Andrew Merrett, AM Communications
Charlie Miers, Footprint
The Art of Service (via Twitter)
Belzie77 (via Twitter)
UK_FPA (via Twitter)
Kompostgwen (via Twitter)
Mark Lewis, Caterer and Hotelkeeper
Amanda Afiya, Caterer and Hotelkeeper
Kerstin KÁ¼hn, Caterer and Hotelkeeper


United Against Waste
United Against Waste
FOOD WASTE SOLUTIONS

Wise up on Waste Toolkit Working with the Sustainable Restaurant Association, Unilever Food Solutions has developed a valuable resource called the Wise up on Waste Toolkit. It is packed with practical tools, tips and advice on how to minimise and manage waste. It includes a full waste audit, tracking sheets and charts to help caterers save money and do their bit for the environment. The toolkit offers simple solutions for caterers:

â- It helps them to identify areas where they can reduce food waste and be more efficient in the kitchen
â- There are six steps where waste can either be prevented or turned into profit
â- It covers purchasing, storage, production, prep, monitoring plate waste and disposing of organic waste
â- It's a manual process - you do not need computer software - and it's very simple to use, so it won't interfere with your day job
â- Supporting materials include audit sheets, a series of posters (waste awareness, stock room, purchasing portioning and disposal), a recipe card template, and a preparation folder.)

www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.uk/wastetools

Doggy boxes

The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) has launched a campaign calling on London restaurateurs to offer diners doggy boxes in which to take home left over food. The Too Good To Waste campaign, which launched in October, aims to "de-stigmatise" the concept of the doggy bag, which is widespread in the USA, while at the same time raise awareness about the large amount of food wasted in restaurants.

As part of the campaign, the SRA will produce 25,000 biodegradable doggy boxes, which will be handed out to participating restaurants. The boxes will feature quotes from celebrity supporters of the campaign and will be available for sponsorship. Other supporting material will include campaign stickers and table cards for restaurants as well as a fact sheet on how to store and reheat food for diners.

www.toogood-towaste.co.uk


E-mail your comments to Amanda Afiya here.

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