Between 30-40% of food in the United States goes uneaten each year. That's nearly 40 million tons every year – equaling approximately 219 pounds of waste per person. The total waste is worth more than $161 billion.Consumers are not alone in their responsibility - restaurants also contribute to this astonishing figure.
It is estimated that restaurants produce 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste annually. Waste in the foodservice industry can occur along the supply chain process, when it is being prepared for the customer, and after food has been served. Let’s take a closer look at how food waste occurs throughout the industry and what we can do to reduce it.
Food has quite the hike before it reaches a consumer's fork. Unfortunately, there is loss at every step in its journey. To start, when food moves through production and manufacturing facilities it can be discarded due to reasons like product damage and overproduction. Perishable items can be physically lost or made unsafe to eat if they aren’t held at the correct temperature during transportation.
People working at foodservice establishments rarely interact with the supply side of the industry, however operators can do their part by researching the suppliers they work with to make sure those suppliers are mindful of reducing food waste.
Once a food delivery arrives, it must be properly inspected before being accepted into your inventory. Everyone on the team should know how to check the quality of a shipment and be prepared to reject an order that arrives with food in poor condition or that has not been held at the proper temperature. Once a shipment has been accepted, it is critical that foods be properly stored as soon as possible.
Immediately storing foods after they have been delivered will help keep them out of the temperature danger zone. Not only does this protect customers from foodborne illnesses, it also helps reduce food waste by ensuring foods don’t lose freshness or spoil.
Food waste that occurs at a foodservice establishment is most often the result of poor food safety training. Approximately 4-10% of food purchased by restaurants is wasted before even reaching customers. Staff who have been taught the basics of food safety or who take an accredited food handler training play a major role in preventing foodborne illnesses and the reduction of food waste.
Customers often leave 17% of their meals uneaten – and then leave behind 55% of their edible leftovers. While we can’t necessarily change the fact that portion sizes have been steadily increasing over the last 30 years, foodservice workers can help reduce these numbers by making sure they are mindful when it comes to serving people with allergies, intolerances, and preferences.
Most of the time a dish will need to be thrown out and re-made when it accidentally has cross contact with allergens or contact with a food outside a customer’s cultural observation. The kitchen prevents food waste when the whole team respects the modifications its customers request. You can also help reduce food waste by encouraging customers to bring their leftovers home.
It has been exciting to see some establishments develop food donation programs and implement composting practices as awareness about food waste has grown. At its core, reducing food waste means keeping perfectly good food from ending up in landfills. The food industry can continue to reduce waste and prevent foodborne illnesses by ensuring everyone on the team understands (and practices) the basics of food safety.
Whether it’s at a restaurant or at home, food safety is no joke. It only takes a small mistake to greatly increase your risk of contracting a foodborne illness. According to the CDC it is estimated that foodborne illnesses make 48 million people sick each year – resulting in 128,000 of those people being hospitalized and 3,000 deaths. While you can’t always control how food is handled before it reaches your kitchen, restaurant workers well trained in food safety can reduce cross contamination of food with harmful bacteria (like Salmonella) and minimize the chances of causing or encountering food poisoning.
Let’s take a look at five food safety fails that made the news in recent years, and explore how you can avoid making similar mistakes:
Jack In The Box
In 1993, the Washington State Department of Health launched an investigation into Jack in the Box due to high instances of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) among Seattle-area children. The source of the illness was traced back to E.Coli bacteria that had contaminated hamburger patties sold at area locations. The bacteria sickened over 700 people and led to 171 hospitalizations and four deaths. Ultimately 73 of the chain’s locations were linked to one of the most infamous E. Coli outbreaks this country has ever seen.
The Fail: Not Cooking Meat Thoroughly
The Fix: Most foods require cooking to a minimum safe temperature to ensure that they are prepared correctly. Make sure you check your dishes with a regularly calibrated thermometer to ensure you are cooking food to its proper (safe) internal temperature.
A Tennessee jury ordered Cracker Barrel to pay a man 9.4 million dollars after the company served him a glass of a chemical cleaning agent in what was intended to be a glass of water. The incident took place in 2014 and the chemical in question, a product called Eco San, left the man with damage to his mouth and esophagus.
The Fail: Improperly Storing Chemicals
The Fix: Chemicals and cleaning products should always be clearly labeled and stored away from all food and food contact surfaces.
Sizzler restaurants in Wisconsin made news in July 2000 when hundreds of people became ill due to an E.Coli outbreak. The culprit? Employees cross contaminated fresh watermelon with raw sirloin tips and chunky taco meat. Dozens of people were hospitalized and one child died as a result of this outbreak.
The Fail: Cross Contamination
The Fix: Always keep raw meat separate from any ready to eat food items. It’s essential to use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw items and to make sure you clean and sanitize your equipment between each use.
In late 2003, over 650 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A were linked to the consumption of contaminated green onions that were either raw or undercooked at the Beaver Valley Mall Chi Chi’s. There were over 9,000 people impacted, including employees and patrons. Four people died as a result of this outbreak of Hepatitis A.
The Fail: Serving Undercooked Food
The Fix: Be sure to keep raw and uncooked food items separate from the prepared items.
In 2003, at least 94 people fell ill after eating at a single Federico’s restaurant in Litchfield Park, AZ. No employees reported being sick at the time of the occurrence and it is believed that contaminated lettuce from a small, highly contaminated shipment was the source of the E.Coli outbreak.
The Fail: Using Contaminated Food
The Fix: It is important to ensure food shipments arrive in the right condition and at the right temperature. Do not accept any broken or leaking packages and make sure you are testing all TCS foods before storing them in your refrigerator.
As you now know, the consequences of foodborne illnesses are serious – even though some people think the worst of it is an upset stomach. These five food safety fixes can help food handlers protect themselves as well as their customers. Remember, foodborne illnesses are preventable and you can easily avoid these (and other) #foodsafetyfails with proper food handler training.
The scenario: you’re taking someone’s order, closing someone else’s check, being called to clean up a spill, and asked to run a round of dishes through the dishwasher. What do you do?
Foodservice workers are constantly and simultaneously juggling multiple requests from teammates AND customers. Food handlers have to be ready to assist at every level and the only way to succeed is to be a master at multitasking. Read on for some tips and tricks for improving some of the multitasking musts that can help food handlers stay ahead of the game.
The food industry moves fast and it certainly stops for no one. Whether you’re in the middle of the dinner rush or opening the kitchen for the day, time management is essential. You can improve your time management by making sure your workspaces are well organized, creating an internal routine for yourself during shifts, setting time limits on tasks, and avoiding distractions like phone use or getting caught up talking to a friend that came in.
Group Tasks Together
A time management trick that deserves its own shoutout is grouping tasks together or habit-stacking within the routine you built for yourself within your shift. Need to prep some extra veggies and overhear expo say they need more garnish cut? Grab an extra cutting board and storage container and BOOM! Two tasks checked off the list. Cleaning the bathroom at the end of the day? Bring re-stocks of toilet paper, paper towels, and soap with you to reduce running back and forth. Combining tasks within specific time or location blocks is an effective way to cut down on the overall time each individual task takes.
Advice about prioritizing tasks often, hilariously, suggests only doing one task at a time. If you’ve ever spent even an hour in a kitchen, you may think that advice can’t possibly be applied in the food industry. You know what though? You have to! Unless you can suddenly be in two places at once, you’re already making priority choices on the fly.
The best thing you can do to improve your prioritization is to start by asking some questions to determine what is most urgent. What needs to be done now? What can be delayed a few minutes? Can I delegate a task to someone else? Is there a task that can be dropped until the end of the shift? Always remember communication is key, so if you’re delaying, delegating, or dropping a task you must let other people know when or how their requests will be handled down the line.
Speaking of communication…Kitchens that run like well-oiled machines all have one thing in common: exceptional communication skills. Whether it is a team meeting at the start of a shift, regularly updated signage about cleaning policies, or knowing the right way to politely ask the back-of-house the status of a dish, communicating early and often can save the day.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or you’re already in the middle of a task when a new request comes in, make sure you let the manager on duty know you need a minute or that you need an extra hand. Your managers and teammates won’t know you need help unless you ask, so make sure you advocate for yourself and ask!
Industry veterans can also help new hires by sharing the tips and tricks of the kitchen along the way. Knowledge sharing can improve everyone’s ability to perform under pressure and increase everyone’s ability to work together as a cohesive team.
New recipes, food allergy warnings, updated menus, customer orders, special pricing, safe food handling practices, and operations procedures are just a few of the details foodservice workers constantly have to learn and relearn. The best ways to improve your memorization skills include: reading information out loud, visualizing what you need to remember, breaking the information up into smaller bites, and avoiding cramming at the last minute. If you’re new to the food industry, or even the business you’re working for, you can ask your manager if they have any training materials or an extra copy of the menu so you can create flashcards or a cheat sheet to help you pick up the details.
Work at a Steady Pace
It is incredibly difficult to not get caught up in the chaos of a rush, but the saying “slow and steady wins the race” didn’t come out of thin air! Now we’re not saying to move around the kitchen like a turtle, but ensuring that a task is done correctly the first time is far more important than rushing through and having to call a re-do. Learning how to steadily work at an efficient pace by using some of the other strategies we’ve covered today can make for higher quality work across the board.
These multitasking musts are skills that can help everyone on the team provide exceptional customer service while keeping food safe. If you talk to food industry veterans, many will tell you that they love the fast-paced nature of the work and how it keeps them on their toes. What they don’t tell you is that they’ve mastered these multitasking skills without even really thinking about it!
“Am I too sick to work?” is a more complicated question than it seems when it comes to the foodservice industry. Staffing shortages, difficult commutes, and fluctuating income from tips can mean foodservice workers face a difficult decision when they are feeling under the weather. Most people want (and need) to work, so many will still show up if they aren’t feeling their best. Unfortunately, their perseverance can contribute to making food unsafe.
It can be difficult to know when to report to a manager or shift leader when you’re feeling ill, but it could go a long way in protecting customers from foodborne illnesses – and workers from losing their jobs. According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses affect millions of people and cause thousands of deaths every year. Approximately half of all those food-related illness outbreaks are caused by norovirus, or more commonly, the stomach flu.
Did you know that people with norovirus are contagious from the moment they feel sick until at least three days after recovery? A nasty stomach bug with diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and/or stomach cramping can appear seemingly out of nowhere because norovirus is highly contagious. Norovirus can easily be transferred airborne, through sneezing, coughing, or vomit. People can also become infected by touching surfaces that are contaminated, then touching their mouths or by eating foods that are contaminated.
Norovirus can survive up to two weeks on inanimate objects. This means if someone touches a contaminated surface like a doorknob, light switch, or elevator button and then touches their mouth the contamination can spread and cause more illness. Food can become infected by direct contact with contaminated hands, direct contact with surfaces that are contaminated with infected stool or vomit, or tiny droplets that spray through the air when someone vomits.
Following proper handwashing practices and ensuring that no one has bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods are the two best strategies when it comes to protecting both the people and foods in your workspace. If you’re feeling sick, the best course of action is to talk to your manager. Depending on your symptoms and level of exposure, you may be restricted or excluded from working with food.
People working in the food industry have a responsibility to report certain symptoms including:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Sore throat with fever
- Infected wounds or lesions with pus (on hands or exposed body parts)
Foodservice workers should also report if they or a member of their household has been diagnosed by a doctor with:
- Salmonella typhi (typhoid fever)
- E. coli
- Hepatitis A
- Nontyphoidal Salmonella
It must also be reported when a foodservice worker:
- Consumes or handles food that was implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak
- Works in a location that had a confirmed outbreak
- Lives with someone who works or was in a location that was known to have had a foodborne illness outbreak
Test yourself! Do you know which scenarios should be reported?
Along with dangerous and sometimes fatal symptoms, foodborne illnesses can also result in billions of dollars lost, legal action, and damaged reputations. Knowing when it is necessary to report an illness to your manager can protect everyone who comes through their doors.
Employee appreciation is important, especially when it comes to staff retention, because the more an employee feels valued, the more likely they are to stay engaged with their job. The industry has faced incredible challenges in the last few years and it can feel overwhelming to add another thing to your plate, but as Employee Appreciation Day approaches, there are some very easy ways for managers and operators to show their teams they care.
This first one should be a no-brainer, but with a global crisis and hungry customers harassing you online and IRL it might have slipped some managers’ minds. Whether it is saying a heartfelt “thank you” when sending someone home for the day or taking the time to write a thoughtful note about what you appreciate about each member of your team, remembering to lead with gratitude can go a long way.
Does your staff hate cleaning the cooler? Do people fight over who has to clean the bathroom? An easy way for managers to show their appreciation is to show that they KNOW a task is terrible and offer to take it on themselves for a day (or even a week). The divide between management and the staff on the frontline can sometimes feel broad and deep and managers will earn more respect from their staff by jumping into the trenches with them.
What’s better than expressing gratitude? SURPRISE expressions of gratitude. It could be as straightforward as throwing a surprise pizza party for lunch or ordering a special dessert to bring out at the end of a family meal. Other options could include buying each team member their favorite candy bar, organizing an after-hours happy hour, or ordering everyone a coffee at the top of their shift. Small surprises can go a long way in showing appreciation and boosting morale.
Continuing education is common, and oftentimes required, in most industries. Experts in staff retention repeatedly cite opportunities for job training and growth as a key to employee satisfaction. So what better way to show your staff you appreciate their efforts than investing in their futures? Providing access to food handler training for your staff during the onboarding process (and when its time for renewal!), reimbursing someone for taking a mixology course, or hosting a knife skills session can all make your staff feel appreciated for their time and experience – all while showing them that you're invested in their success.
Don’t get us wrong – we don’t mean give your staff more to do! However, people love to offer advice. Want to re-arrange the dining room or better organize the cooler? Ask the people who work in those spaces what they think should change around the space. It is a straightforward and simple way to show that you value your employees by saying you value their opinion.
A little can go a long way and a random bonus can brighten anyone’s day. Keeping gift cards on hand to congratulate someone for a high sales day or finding some extra cash in the budget to boost someone’s morale after being stiffed on tips are two ways to acknowledge the extra mile that your team has to go as a part of the service industry.
While Employee Appreciation Day is celebrated each year on March 4, proactive managers and operators make a habit of planning ways to recognize and reward their staff for their contributions to their business all throughout the year. These simple employee appreciation ideas are just a start – we’d love to know what your business has done to celebrate the staff’s hard work. Shoot us an email at email@example.com or DM us on Instagram and tell us all about it!
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