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Cornell report aims to cut restaurant food waste

Food waste is a major issue for hospitality industry purveyors, both in terms of the cost of wasted food and the environmental consequences of tossing out tons of food. By one estimate, about one-quarter of food prepared in the United States is wasted. A new report from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) is aimed at helping hotels and restaurants control their post-consumer food waste.

The tool, “FRESH: A Food-service Sustainability Rating for Hospitality Sector Events,” by Sanaa I. Pirani, Hassan A. Arafat, and Gary M. Thompson, is available from CHR at no charge. It presents six areas where food-service operators can reduce their food waste. Pirani recently earned her Ph.D. from the Masdar Institute, where Arafat is a professor. Thompson is a professor at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

“Employee turnover gets all the attention, but food waste is a much larger industry challenge, both in terms of the cost and in terms of the greenhouse gas emission from this waste,” said Thompson. “One statistic we present in the study is that if food waste were a country, it would be third in the list of greenhouse gas producers, after China and the United States.”

Thompson added that the hospitality industry also faces restrictions on disposal and recycling, and food donation programs can save only limited amounts of food due to food safety regulations. Rather than having to address how to dispose of wasted food, Thompson and his co-authors identify six specific ways to attack and reduce food waste.

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To measure (post-consumer) food waste, the tool includes: a no-show indicator (when unexpectedly few people show up), an over-show measure (when too many people show up), a planning indicator (measuring intentional overproduction), a portion-size indicator (measuring per-guest consumption against expectations), an economies-of-scale indicator, and a post-event indicator (which depends on disposal approaches). With these measurements, FRESH can help managers, authorities, and potential guests evaluate the sustainability of food production in any establishment.

Tags: Cornell, Food and Beverage, food waste, Study


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