Food waste is one of the easiest topics to talk about and one of the hardest to take action upon. It's also not a topic a lot of people think about in their day to day lives when we throw out our half-eaten muffins or purge our refrigerators of stale food. I've worked at Taco Mama, a regional chain restaurant in the southeast for the past seven months, where the reality of food waste hit me like a truck. It left me thinking about if there was anything I could do to combat food waste. 

The Facts

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Shelby Cohron

According to the National Restaurant Alliance in association with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an estimated 33 billion pounds of food from stores, restaurants and homes were wasted in 2010. In a report done in 2018 by ReFed, a non-profit dedicated to food waste, 63 million tons of food have been wasted in the past year. Twenty-seven million of that was generated by homes and twenty-five million by restaurants and grocery stores. Dollars wise, that's $218 billion dollars wasted on "growing, processing, transporting, and disposing uneaten food."

Actions That Can Be Taken

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Alex Frank

All these facts about food waste left me wondering what my restaurant and others could do about food waste. One of the most popular ways is donating to local food pantries or soup kitchens. There are a couple of regulations such as making sure the food is preserved at the correct temperatures and not donating thawed out meats. The National Restaurant Association published a guide for restaurants here. The second way for a restaurant to reduce food waste is figuring out exactly where they're wasting. Are they over-prepping food? Do they have specific food for menu items that aren't that popular which ends up getting thrown out? Tracking food to measure where it goes and what happens to it could save the restaurant 2-6% percent, of the roughly 30% they're already spending on food.

I sat down with my general manager, Shaun Woodward to discuss what Taco Mama has accomplished about food waste as a smaller restaurant chain.

"Honestly we don’t waste much food due to not over-prepping,"  Woodward said. "Lots of restaurants over-prep in case they’re super busy. We don’t over-prep like that, so we can ensure that everything is fresh. That’s why a lot of the times at the end of the night we have someone back [in the kitchen] remaking food."

When I brought up donating food he told me a lot of times they donate that night's food to the team members—otherwise they don't have enough to donate.

"Olive Garden donates their food once a week," Woodward explained. Before working at Taco Mama, Woodward worked at Olive Garden for six years. "Every Olive Garden in the country, all 867 of them, has a food program with their local soup kitchens, like Salvation Army. They come and pick it up, they freeze it for them and use in their soup kitchens."

What You Can Do

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Katie Kasperson

We've got a long way to go in America to start combating food waste, and it's not just restaurants who are in charge of leading that. There's a lot we can do in our homes to help bring the number down. You can try living a no-food waste lifestyle like this Spoonie did. You can even download an app for that, developed by students are Cornell University and backed by the United States Department of Agriculture. Last but not least, just knowing how to properly store your food could help you from tossing most of your fruit and veggies,and save you money.

Food waste is an issue, but one of the easiest for everyone to help take action against, from restaurants donating food to making sure you properly store your veggies. We can all bring down the food waste percentage.