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A Case Study in Waste Management

The concept of waste management continues to gain traction within the foodservice industry. That’s probably due to the fact that better management of food waste can positively impact a business in multiple ways.Namely by lowering operating costs and lessening the facility’s impact on the environment.

For its two corporate dining facilities in Hillsboro, Ore., Intel worked with its contract feeder – Bon Appetit Management Company – to change its food preparation, menu development, and waste management processes in an effort to reduce their pre-consumer waste; largely caused by overproduction, spoilage, exceeding expiration dates, and excess trimmings. The result was a 47 percent reduction of food waste by weight as well as a 13.2 percent reduction in food costs per meal.

Trying to encourage other businesses to follow a similar path, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is highlighting Intel as a case study as part of a special report.

“Upstream, the production of food uses tremendous energy, water and land resources, and is a major source of pollution,” said the report, which was put together by Portland, Ore.-based waste management technology company LeanPath Inc. “Downstream, the transportation of food waste generates diesel emissions from hauling vehicles, and while most food waste in the U.S. is landfilled, when food decomposes in a landfill, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas approximately 20-plus times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming potential.”

Just to give you an idea of the scope of the waste management arena, food waste costs commercial and retail foodservice operations $30 billion to $40 billion per week, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And, LeanPath reports that 4 percent to 10 percent of the food purchased in high-volume foodservice operations is discarded as waste before ever reaching the customer.

Pre-consumer food waste was the biggest challenge at Intel, where the Jones Farm Cafe 5 and Ronler Acres Café 3 facilities serve a combined 1,200 meals per week, which translates into 2,900 pounds of food waste per week. Onsite chefs admitted to struggling with menu forecasting, meaning they often would prepare more food than they actually served. This was most likely due to the sophistication of the menu items, many of which called for a wide range of ingredients. Also contributing to the chefs’ challenges were the facilities’ frequently changing menus and sourcing more local, sustainable foods that happen to be more perishable. As a result, certain menu items created natural food waste, according to the report. For example, one menu item called for a small portion of turkey but staff still needed to prepare an entire turkey breast, at minimum even though it might not all get used.

With some financial backing from the City of Hillsboro, the Oregon DEQ, Bon Appetit and LeanPath, Intel made some important revisions to its food handling systems that would prove cost-effective and environmental-saving in the end. Among these steps was creating and installing a tracking station where digital scales and software tracking systems could measure the amount of food thrown away. This included tracking pre-consumer foods from hot and cold production areas as well as post-consumer foods from the hot line, salad bar and other cafes and kiosks throughout facilities.

The new system proved minimally invasive, with the weighing process requiring less than four minutes per employee per week, according to the report. Employees used the touch-screen interface to record the food item, the reason for the loss, the container type, the sending station and employee’s name.

To boost productivity, each site had its own SWAT (Stop Waste Action Team), overseen by the executive chef, to review data and encourage improvement, according to the report. An open communication forum was established so all employees could weigh in (no pun intended) on their opinions, concerns, and ideas.

Between April 20, 2009 and April 5, 2010, the combined pre-consumer food waste was reduced by 47 percent, or a reduction of about 1,300 pounds per week, give or take, or more than 60,000 pounds per year. To put this into perspective, for every $1,000,000 spent on food, the waste reduction savings amount to about $132,000, but that number would continue to grow as waste reduction efforts continued, according to the report.