On this International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, we wanted to share efforts Community Servings is taking to reduce food waste—from how we select and manage our food to how we develop recipes, track our food, and dispose of waste.
Starting with our supply chain
We intentionally provide a market for quality local “seconds,” harvested fruits and vegetables that either have cosmetic imperfections or don’t meet the requirements of other buyers (an extra-long carrot, for example). Buying seconds helps eliminate food loss that farmers might otherwise face, and it provides local farmers with income for a larger percentage of what they produce. One of our local farm partners, the Community Harvest Project, did not have an outlet for its seconds before we began purchasing their produce. Our purchases now divert 500 to 1,500 pounds of safe, healthy, and tasty produce from their compost pile weekly during the growing season.
Managing our inventory
Proper inventory management is the key to good business management in the food industry and is critical to eliminating food waste. At Community Servings, every step of our production is designed for efficiency and to eliminate overages. We use an on-demand inventory management system, meaning we purchase only the products we need and can use within their lifespan. We use data to understand how many clients we’re going to serve so we know how much food we need and when we need it, which saves money and food. We “bottom out” our ingredients, using all of one ingredient before resupplying it so we’re not putting new items on top of old.
Creating flexible recipes
Don’t underestimate the role of creativity in the fight against food waste. Our flexible recipes and menus allow us to respond to what’s in season and available in New England. The vast majority of our recipes are flexible enough to incorporate fresh versions of something that might be frozen at other times of the year. If one of our farm partners has a bumper cucumber crop, we’re able to adjust quickly to increase our cucumber-heavy dishes. We’ll make more traditional items like cucumber salad and gazpacho. We’ve also made a cucumber and lemon cake and our own pickles.
Maximizing our freezer
Even the way we organize and pack our freezer helps reduce waste. We have a finite amount of cold storage so we have to be strategic about what we store there. If we receive 30 pounds of basil we can’t use right away, we’ll make a basil puree, which doesn’t take up very much space in the freezer. We’ve designed our freezer with shelving along the perimeter so that the earliest-prepared food can be placed closest to the most accessible area. Center shelving allows more visibility so we never end up with a cluster of food in a corner that people can’t reach. Of course, we’re not perfect, but the system helps us get the freshest food to our customers and avoid items getting forgotten in the back of the freezer.
Managing what’s left
While we don’t have overages due to our on-demand inventory management, we still end up with extra food sometimes. If meals are returned because the recipient was not available, we give them to volunteers, staff, or neighborhood organizations.
Since our food is scratch-made, we do end up with food scraps from our meal preparation. We use all the parts of food that we can, and everything else—such as rinds, husks, pits, and peels—is picked up twice a week by Boston-based commercial composting company CERO, a worker-owned cooperative with Black and Latino founders.
Like most of our other business decisions, our efforts to curb food waste help us provide the best-possible meals and service to our clients, make good business sense, and are the right thing to do.
Why Food Waste Matters
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have issued the U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction goal, seeking to cut food loss and waste in half by the year 2030. Here are some of the costs of food loss:
- Food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the U.S. food supply, a loss of about $161 billion worth of food a year.
- The country’s uneaten food contains enough calories to feed the 35 million estimated food-insecure Americans with enough food left over to feed more than 100 million more people.
- A year of food loss and waste in the United States produces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 42 coal-fired power plants.
7 Tips for Reducing Food Waste at Home
The average family of four in the United States loses about $1,500 a year of uneaten food. Here are some steps you can take to reduce food loss at home.
- Look before you shop: Check your fridge, freezer and pantry before heading out to the supermarket to avoid buying food you already have. Plan upcoming meals around food you want to use up.
- Avoid overbuying: Only buy the amount of an item that you’re planning to use.
- Properly store fruits and vegetables: For example, wait to wash berries until you’re ready to eat them, and store fruits that release ethylene gas (such as bananas, apples, pears, stone fruits, and avocados) away from other produce since it can speed up ripening.
- Repurpose your food: As long as they’re safe, odds and ends (slightly wilted greens or a banana with a brown spot) may be fine for eating. Get creative by adding them to soups, smoothies, stir fries, frittatas, or sauces.
- Share your leftovers: If you’ve made too much food, consider giving it to a neighbor or your local community fridge.
- Remember your freezer: Label and freeze leftovers and any other food at risk of spoiling before you can use it.
- Learn what “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” and expiration dates mean: In most cases, they are just a recommendation, and you can use your sense of smell and a visual inspection to determine if food is still good. Federal regulation only requires product dating for infant formula.