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How Food Waste and Food Safety Are Related

May 9, 2024
How Food Waste and Food Safety Are Related
Food Safety Environment Category Blog

Many of us know that food waste is an issue. But how much, exactly? According to Feeding America, 80 million tons of food are wasted each year in the United States alone. That equates to 149 billion meals and $444 billion worth of food. 

While food naturally gets to the point where it’s unusable—whether cooked or not—there are some precautions related to food safety that can help reduce food waste. In fact, food safety and food waste are more related than you might think. Let’s discuss how.

The Link Between Food Waste and Food Safety

The consequences of food waste are well documented, but the link between waste and safety is less prevalent. Fortunately, there are several documented links between food safety and food waste, which includes the following areas:

  • Contamination: When food isn’t properly handled and cross-contamination occurs, it can create food waste in multiple ways. For one, harmful bacteria from spoiled or rotten food can spread to other foods and surfaces if the storage situation isn’t ideal. (This can also happen with poor disposal techniques). Secondly, employees who aren’t experienced or knowledgeable about food safety can make a cross-contamination mistake, forcing them to throw out the contaminated food if they’re aware of it.
  • Pests: The worse the food safety practices, the more likely pests like rodents, insects and flies will be attracted to the food. These pests are common culprits for foodborne pathogens and infestations can not only compromise food safety, but pose health risks to consumers as well. Additionally, pests can cause physical damage to food packaging and storage containers, causing more contamination and waste.
  • Temperatures: Food waste can actually contribute to temperature control in food storage and preparation areas. For example, overcrowded refrigerators or storage bins may be filled with food that isn’t going to be used, which obstructs airflow and prevents proper cooling. This can lead to temperature fluctuations that promote bacterial growth. Similarly, leaving food sitting at room temperatures for extended periods can accelerate spoilage and microbial activity.
  • Labels: Mislabeling causes confusion and contributes to food waste and food safety issues. If a spoiled ingredient isn’t labeled properly, it could be presumed safe to eat and served to guests. If labels aren’t present and clear, they can also cause cross-contamination and impact a variety of other ingredients stored near it. 
  • Resources: When food is wasted, it causes issues beyond simple revenue and inventory loss. Food must be produced, processed and transported, then disposed of if it isn’t used. All of these require manpower and a lot of it can go to waste if proper food safety measures aren’t in place. By reducing food waste, your staff can focus more on food safety and promoting a safer environment for everyone involved.

Ways to Address Food Waste While Enhancing Safety

As you can see above, food waste impacts food safety and vice versa. The good news is that there are ways to address both. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Portion control and menu planning: Another big culprit for food waste is the customer. Patrons often don’t finish all of their meals and don’t take them to go, forcing the staff to throw away leftovers. You can minimize overproduction and excess waste with a little strategic menu planning and portion control. If you’re monitoring customer demand, you can adjust accordingly to avoid surplus inventory that may end up being wasted. You could also offer certain extra products to customers for purchase (e.g., day-old bread).
  • Employee training and education: Do you have a comprehensive training and education program for staff? Every employee who handles food needs to know proper techniques for processing, storage and waste management. One solution for this is a food handler certification course, which American Course Academy offers. It’s affordable, convenient and required. But it also helps you avoid food waste when your employees are more knowledgeable and can identify areas for improvement.
  • Better storage and handling: Take a look at your storage situation. Are refrigerators and coolers up to date? Are temperature controls present? Are storage bins and containers of high quality? All of these are ways you can improve storage and handling to minimize food waste and the risk of contamination. Additionally, these storage areas must be clean, organized and adhere to FIFO (first in, first out) rotation principles. 
  • Better monitoring and inspections: If you’re regularly monitoring ingredients, labels and inventory, you’re less likely to be surprised by waste and safety issues. Key metrics to monitor for improvement include waste volume, disposal costs and inventory turnover rates. Use this data (which can be gathered during inspections) to inform decisions.
  • Food donations and recovery programs: Finally, there are programs out there that accept surplus food, whether as a donation or to resell. Either way, if you’re giving food to a company or people that can use it, it reduces food waste, even if you don’t directly benefit from it.

If you’re interested in learning more about food waste, food safety and other aspects of food handling, consider signing up for a food handler course with American Course Academy today.

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