Food Safety Food Manager

Waste Not, Want Not: Effective Waste Management in Foodservice

Posted by
Trust20 Contributors • 10 minute read

Waste management may not be the most glamorous topic, but when it comes to the foodservice industry, it is a crucial one.

Did you know the foodservice industry is a major contributor to food waste? Shockingly, food waste costs restaurants a staggering $162 billion per year, with food costs representing between 28-35% of gross income in restaurants.1

In America alone, restaurants generate as much as 33 billion pounds of food waste per year.2 That's a lot of food scraps! Meanwhile, an estimated 17 million Americans face food insecurity.3 Those numbers simply don’t add up.

So, what can we do to combat this issue? More than you might think.

In fact, as foodservice professionals, we are responsible for increasing our efforts in reducing food waste and prioritizing sustainable practices. Let's dive into some actionable strategies to help us do just that.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Are the Types of Waste Generated in Foodservice?

Understanding Food Waste in Foodservice

How Do You Handle Food Waste Management?

The Future of Waste Management in Foodservice

What Are the Types of Waste Generated in Foodservice?

Working in any foodservice establishment, whether a restaurant, café, or cafeteria, means that you'll come across a lot of waste.

Unfortunately, our industry is one of the biggest contributors to waste globally, and it's up to us as professionals to do our part to minimize it.

Wondering what kind of waste we're talking about? Here are the main types of waste generated in foodservice.

Food Waste

Food waste is the most obvious–and perhaps the biggest type of waste generated in foodservice.

According to research by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), food waste is responsible for 940 billion tons of food wasted each year.4 That's a significant amount, much of it comes from restaurants. Not only does this waste contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but it's also a major financial burden for foodservice establishments.

So why does so much food go to waste? There are a few reasons. When it comes to cooking, there will always be some level of inconsistency in terms of portion sizes and food preparation. This means that some food will inevitably get thrown out at the end of the day.

Not only that, but the popularity of buffets and all-you-can-eat options also increases the amount of food waste, as people tend to take more than they can eat.

Packaging Waste

Another type of waste that's commonly generated in foodservice is packaging waste.

This includes everything from takeout containers to paper napkins. While some packaging is necessary to keep food fresh and safe, excess materials often end up in the landfill.

Other Garbage

Of course, other types of garbage are generated in foodservice as well. This can include everything from broken dishes to cleaning waste.

While these types of waste may not seem as significant as food or packaging waste, they can still add up over time and, therefore, need to be taken into consideration. 

Understanding Food Waste in Foodservice

Again, food waste refers to any discarded or unused food, and it can occur at any stage of the food supply chain. In the context of foodservice, waste can come from various sources, including overproduction, improper storage, unplanned menus, and customer leftovers.

Overproduction is one of the most common causes of food waste in foodservice. Many companies have a "better safe than sorry" approach, producing more food than they actually need in case demand exceeds expectations.

However, this often results in a significant amount of food being thrown away at the end of the day, which not only wastes food (and cuts into your kitchen’s bottom line) but also harms the environment by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Improper storage is another cause of food waste in foodservice. When food is not stored at the correct temperature or in the proper conditions, it can spoil or go bad quickly, rendering it unusable. This can be especially problematic for perishable items such as dairy, meat, and vegetables, which are particularly susceptible to spoilage.

Unplanned menus can also lead to food waste in foodservice. When chefs and kitchen staff don't have a clear plan for what dishes they will prepare (or have more menu items than practical), they may end up with excess ingredients that go unused. This can result in a significant amount of food being thrown away at the end of the day, which is not only wasteful but also costly for the business.

Finally, customer leftovers are another common source of food waste in foodservice. When customers don't finish their meals and leave food on their plates, this can add up to a significant amount of waste over time. 

How Do You Handle Food Waste Management?

With an ever-increasing environmental concern and the need to optimize cost, it's crucial for us to adopt sustainable practices that can contribute to reducing food waste management.

Here are some simple tips–many of which you can implement immediately.

Audit Everything

The first and most important step in reducing your establishment’s waste is to conduct a waste audit.

This will help you identify where you’re generating the most waste. Then, you can understand the type and quantity of waste being produced and where you can make changes to reduce it.

By taking this crucial step, we can identify areas in our operations that require adjustments, such as overproduction, spoilage, or overordering.

Source Reduction

Once we have identified the sources of waste, we can then focus on reducing it. The best way to reduce food waste is to start with source reduction. This means reducing waste at its source by planning, ordering, and producing only what we need.

Menu planning is one of the easiest avenues to follow source reduction–it can help us reduce waste by ensuring that we only purchase and prepare food that will be used.

Consider designing a flexible menu that changes according to the season, availability of ingredients, and customer demand. Be mindful of the portion sizes, and make sure the serving sizes are appropriate.

Managing inventory is another key element of source reduction. Keep track of the inventory levels and the expiry dates of perishable items. Rotate the stock and use the oldest items first to prevent waste due to expired items.

Sustainable Packaging Options

Another way to reduce food waste is by using sustainable packaging options. Single-use plastics are one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution, and as foodservice professionals, we have a responsibility to find alternatives to single-use plastics. 

Here are some sustainable packaging options that you may want to consider:

  • Reusable Containers: Use reusable containers for takeaway orders instead of single-use plastics.

  • Compostable Packaging: Opt for compostable packaging options made from plant-based materials that can be easily composted.

  • Recyclable Packaging: Choose recyclable materials such as glass, paper, or aluminum for food packaging, and avoid plastic.


Donating perishable items like fruits, vegetables, and baked goods is a great way to minimize food waste while simultaneously helping your community. Many local organizations, like food banks and shelters, will accept donations of quality surplus foods.

By doing so, you're not only preventing food from going to waste, but you're also providing assistance to those in need. Some states and municipalities also offer tax incentives to businesses that donate food, making it a win-win situation for all parties involved.


Composting is an excellent method for diverting food waste from landfills and turning it into a useful soil amendment. 

When food waste ends up in landfills, it decomposes anaerobically, producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Composting prevents those emissions and creates a valuable product that can nourish your garden or farm.

If you don't have space on your property for composting (or if zoning or other restrictions don’t allow it), consider partnering with a local composting facility.


Recycling is another effective way to manage food waste. Many materials commonly found in commercial kitchens, like aluminum cans, glass bottles, and cardboard boxes, can be recycled.

By implementing a recycling program, your business can divert significant waste from the landfill and reduce your environmental impact. Recycling can often save you money on waste management costs, too. 

Store Food Correctly 

Proper food storage techniques can significantly extend the life of your food items, reducing the amount of waste generated. 

Make sure to store food at the appropriate temperature, use the FIFO (first in, first out) method to rotate stock, and minimize air exposure by keeping containers tightly sealed. These simple steps can go a long way in reducing food waste and saving you money.

Don’t Overbuy Stock

While purchasing food in bulk and saving some money may be tempting, it can ultimately lead to food waste. Not only do you risk your ingredients going bad before you use them, but they can also take up valuable storage space.

Because of this, you need to strike the right balance of purchasing just enough food for your business's needs. It may take time to figure out where this balance hits, but take the time to evaluate your purchasing habits to make this positive shift thoughtfully.

Rotate Your Inventory

This means you should use older ingredients before using the fresher ones. In doing so, you can reduce the chances of food spoilage, which can lead to food waste. It also guarantees that you use all your stock before it goes bad.

Keep Good Inventory Records

This involves keeping track of everything that enters and leaves your kitchen.

Ideally, you should always clearly understand your inventory levels, including what is about to expire and what needs to be used immediately. When you have a handle on your inventory, you can make informed decisions on using your stock efficiently.

Label Everything

Label everything in your kitchen and storage areas. This includes all ingredients, prepped food, and leftovers. By labeling everything, you'll be able to easily identify what needs to be used up first, avoid expiration dates, and reduce the risk of cross-contamination. 

Inspect All Deliveries

Inspecting all deliveries is another simple way to reduce waste. It's important to check that the products delivered are fresh, in good condition, and have proper dates. By doing this, you can avoid receiving products that are close to expiration and prevent spoilage that can lead to waste.

Practice Portion Control

This can be hard, especially if you’re known for doling out a generous portion size.

But by reducing the portions that you serve to customers, you can significantly reduce the amount of food waste, Plus, offering smaller portion sizes can provide a more accessible price point for customers who may not have been able to afford your larger entrées.

Offer Doggy Bags

It’s estimated that up to 34% of food waste is found on customers’ plates.5 Chances are, that’s not because they don’t like the food–they just got full. Reducing portion sizes, as we just described, can help, but so can offering doggy bags.

Instead of letting that food go to waste, simply offer to pack it up for them to bring home. Not only will your customers appreciate the gesture, but you can also feel better about doing your part to reduce waste. 

Train Staff on How to Reduce and Manage Waste

Last but not least, take the time to educate your staff on how to reduce and manage waste.

Teaching them about the importance of portion control, labeling, and all these other waste management strategies can go a long way–and you may find that by sharing these insights with your team, they can share other ideas that might help you reduce waste even more. 

The Future of Waste Management in Foodservice

If you’re feeling inspired (or perhaps overwhelmed) by all the waste management in foodservice strategies described above, take a deep breath. The good news is that the future has lots in store for us foodservice professionals.

One of the most promising emerging technologies is the use of biodegradable packaging. Made from natural materials such as cornstarch and sugarcane fibers, this packaging is designed to break down quickly and return to the earth.

Many companies are now developing compostable packaging that can be added to food scraps to create nutrient-rich compost for gardens and farms.

Waste monitoring and analytics systems can also track and analyze the amount of waste produced. These systems use sensors to track and record the amount of waste generated by a foodservice operation.

This data can then be used to identify areas where waste can be eliminated, such as overproduction or improper food storage. By reducing waste at the source, foodservice professionals can significantly impact the environment.

Innovative apps like Too Good To Go connect businesses with customers who want to purchase surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.6 This not only reduces food waste, but can also provide an additional revenue stream for businesses.

The Takeaway

Effective waste management in food service not only benefits the environment, but also the bottom line. By implementing simple and sustainable practices like the ones we’ve described in this post, foodservice professionals can reduce their ecological impact and save money in the process.

At Trust20, we understand the importance of proper food handling safety and waste management in foodservice. We offer a suite of products for foodservice professionals, including to help make sure that food is prepared, stored, and disposed of safely–helping you sustainably protect your customers, your business, and the planet.

Start Trust20's Food Manager Program today.


  1. RTS: Food Waste in America in 2023: Statistics & Facts
  2. Natural Resources Defense Council: Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40% of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill
  3. USDA: USDA ERS-Key Statistics & Graphics
  4. Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP): The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants
  5. Resources, Conservation & Recycling: Impact of plate size on food waste: Agent-based simulation of food consumption
  6. Too Good to Go: Too Good To Go