As part of the MPCA's Earth Week 2021 activities, the agency held a roundtable event to highlight how food waste is contributing to the climate change crisis. Twenty percent of garbage in Minnesota is food waste, and when it's sent to landfills, it produces greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main cause of climate change.
Large kitchens in restaurants and residential facilities can be the site of significant food waste. But two Minnesota organizations are using grant funds from the MPCA to cut food waste and save money. Here's how.
Trending less wasteful
Waste Wise is a program of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce that assists companies to reduce, reuse, and recycle more waste. With the help of an MPCA grant, Waste Wise worked with restaurants in three Minnesota casinos to identify and reduce food waste.
Using the Leanpath food waste tracking tool, the restaurants could see patterns in their food garbage. The tool includes a scale, touchscreen, and camera to be used by kitchen staff. All food waste was weighed, photographed, and then described on the touchscreen. Was is spoiled ingredients? Uneaten food from the buffet line? Trim or food prep waste?
The online tracking tool then analyzed the information to help kitchen managers pinpoint opportunities for savings. One restaurant was able to prevent waste and save a lot of money by converting an expensive waste product into an ingredient. The kitchen had been disposing of a lot of beef fat, which costs the same as the meat off of which it was trimmed. The restaurant was able to render the fat and used it for cooking, in place of clarified butter.
In some cases, the Leanpath tool highlighted the menu items that weren’t selling consistently, leading the restaurants to buy and prepare less of the least popular items. Overall, the three restaurants cut food waste by 28%, saving more than 30,000 pounds of food worth more than $40,000.
Only what is needed
In addition to assisting our military veterans with benefits, higher education, outreach, and more, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) runs five homes in Minnesota that provide skilled nursing and home care for veterans. With funding from the MPCA’s Prevention of Wasted Food and Food Rescue Grant, the MDVA was able to add functionality to the software it uses to manage care in its veterans homes. The program will help reduce the amount of food that goes uneaten by residents and their guests.
Currently, kitchen staff must tap their previous experience to estimate how much food should be prepared at each meal. But the needed meals can vary based on the number of residents in the dining room, resident preferences, and whether guests are eating with them. Inaccurate estimates can lead to excess food being wasted.
The software will allow staff to take residents’ orders so the kitchens can produce only meals that have been requested. The program can even recalibrate the kitchen’s recipe for a menu item, to produce the number of servings requested at a particular meal! The MDVA received the MPCA grant in December and will implement the new process once the IT infrastructure is completed.
The MDVA’s goal for its new approach to food preparation is to reduce the amount of discarded food by half, which could save the department as much as $30,000 per year. “We are very excited about the project and its potential to reduce the MDVA’s environmental footprint,” says Caroline McFadden, Sustainability Coordinator for the MDVA. “We are fortunate that the MPCA believed in us to fund this project.”
Learn more about MPCA's Prevention of Wasted Food efforts.