According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, as much as 40% of food produced right here in the U.S. ends up in landfills. The amount of food we waste today is three times more than what we wasted 50 years ago.

When we look at this in the big picture, it’s hard to believe this goes on when 42.2 million people lived in “food-insecure” households in 2015. That means 42.2 million people lacked sufficient funds to a reasonable amount of food.

It’s no secret that food waste is a significant problem in the world today. To take on this epidemic, we first have to reduce food waste in our retail stores and restaurants.

Whether it be a grocery store, convenience store, quick service restaurant, or cafe, food waste is at an all-time high, and it’s happening everywhere.

Reduce food waste with these 7 tips:

1. Have a plan, process & tools for ordering

Start at the beginning of the food cycle by preventing waste before production, distribution and shelf life. Whether it be an employee or team of employees appointed to completing food orders, this is a great place to start in minimizing food waste.

First, make sure this team or person dedicated has the proper knowledge of how much food your store may need and the right order management tools to help. Ideally leveraging predictive analytics tools, knowing the busy times when you’ll require more food and the slow times when you’ll need less.

This team or person would also be responsible for storing the food and inventory management. Their primary duty would be keeping up with numbers while working with other employees to notify them of certain food information.

If you think this is too complicated for your food retail store’s staff, think about using a low-cost order management software that makes this as easy as pushing a button on an iPad.

Eruza is an excellent example of an App that uses data science to predict demand and optimize supply while guiding your team to quickly submit the right orders, leaving you with happy customers and less food waste.

2. Inspect orders upon arrival

No matter how you decide to order your food, you should plan on inspecting all orders upon arrival. Why? Because you never know if your vendor may have slipped up and sent you something expired or rotten.

Ensuring that all food orders get reviewed will limit your food waste and process. It’s better to take the time to make sure you are receiving quality products than waiting until it comes time to use or sell it and realizing it’s not edible.

You’ll also want to make sure you got what you ordered. You won’t want to receive more and increase the risk of food waste or on the other hand, receive too little.

3. Train employees to increase margins

Making sure your employees are knowledgeable and on the same page as management about reducing food waste is crucial.

Things you would want to educate your staff on includes:

  • Which foods you should use first/last
  • Ways to properly cut produce to ensure you are getting the most of the product
  • Proper portion sizes (use a scale for measurement)
  • Knowing how and where to recycle unusable foods
  • Proper prepping tactics

Training your employees around these factors will help incorporate food waste efforts into the whole company mission and not just management.

4. Storage

Now it’s time to store your food. Are the foods you are receiving frozen? Do they need to be refrigerated? Better yet, do you know the proper temperatures these foods should be stored at?

These are all questions you should be asking yourself.

Food storage can easily be mismanaged with cross-contamination and improper handling.

The FDA refrigerator and freezer storage chart says to keep refrigerated products at 40 degrees F and freezer products at 0 degrees F. If your appliances don’t come with built-in thermometers, it’s about time to invest in one.

Your food stores should also have a standard protocol for wrapping unused food.

Food boxes or packaging wrap are the most common storage procedures used in the food retail industry to prevent cross-contamination.

5. Sort & Label

Another thing to keep in mind with storage is the way you sort and label your food products. How your food retail store decides to display the oldest food to your newest food is essential in reducing food waste.

You’ll want to label your products with expiration dates and any other important details crucial to the foods life-span. After this is taken care of, you can properly organize the food based on when it arrives.

Grocery stores, convenience stores, and quick service restaurants have many different ways of going about this process. Some use the right to the left rule, and others use the front to back. Meaning the oldest foods are placed on the right side, or put the oldest foods to the front of the fridge.

Either way, the oldest foods received by your store should be the first used. Following a first in first out procedure will significantly reduce food waste and increase your margins.

6. Change the menu or offer sales to use excess ingredients

Get creative with the leftovers you have lying around. A little brainstorming from your chefs and managers can allow your food store to feature special items that use up any excess food.

Your customers don’t have to know this either! Many customers like trying new things and you efficiently use up your product — it’s a win, win for everyone.

You could also lower the price on an individual item to incentivize your customers to order or buy, which minimizes food waste.

7. Be socially responsible

It’s important to take the necessary steps to be socially responsible and to prevent any unused food laying around your food retail store. These measures should be taken early on to ensure the surplus food is used.

Unfortunately, most of the “imperfect” or out-of-date food goes to landfills. But, instead of waiting until things are out of date to donate them or ditching them because they aren’t visually appealing, your store should make it a point to donate or discount this food beforehand.

Touch the selling point of being environmentally friendly by letting your customers know misshapen produce with a few bumps of bruises on them doesn’t make it low quality.

During the ordering and stocking process, be conscious of not overstocking the shelves just for the sake of looking good. In most cases, this leads to ordering too much product and having to throw it in a landfill because it reached its expiration date.

Many supermarkets out there are hopping on the food reduction bandwagon by participating in programs such as; frozen meat delivered to food pantries, initiating food donation programs, and urging consumer’s to purchase misshapen fruits and vegetables.

The USDA and the EPA recently teamed up to announce a national food reduction goal of 50% by 2030. Now it’s time to get your store on board and start setting aggressive goals to make this happen. Let your social responsibility shine through.

Make food reduction a priority

Grocery stores, convenience stores and other quick serve retail stores that sell fresh foods are significant culprits when it comes to food waste in the U.S. When 13.5% of our population is in poverty and cannot afford food, we know this is a sweeping problem that needs addressing.

Following these simple tips will allow your grocery store to reduce food waste while increasing margins substantially. The more you use up, the less you waste and spend. The positive economic impact to stores that adopt solutions which help them manage food waste has shown to drive greater than 25% in margin efficiency.

Learn from others and keep educating yourself about how to be the most socially responsible through recycling tips and food management best practices. Every little bit will make a difference.

What are ways your store tries to reduce food waste? We’d love to hear from you!