For those outside the restaurant industry it can be hard to grasp why so much food is wasted every year at restaurants. From working firsthand in many different restaurants, I can tell you why, and give you some more practical understanding to why they might feel it necessary to throw a 40 pound bag of goodies in the garbage.
One of the main reasons that food is wasted is for health safety regulations. If food has been sitting out too long even though it appears to be in good quality, restaurants will definitely waste it instead of allowing their employees or anyone else to have it. The last thing they want is to get into trouble by risking giving it to someone that has the possibility of getting sick and it’s their fault.
There are actually rules that restaurants follow too on how long a product should be kept before it can be wasted. This is regardless of how it looks, tastes, or smells. These rules are separated into conditions that can be based off of what to do with the food before it is cooked, and after it is cooked.
Food has a “shelf life” when it is placed in coolers at the restaurant, and also a shelf life when it is taken out of the coolers to cook and prepare it. There is also a time of how long it is good for after the food is cooked, before it is served to customers.
When the conditions aren’t met, they have no choice but to waste the food due to health code violations. Every restaurant is subject to follow safe food handling, or they risk having their entire business suspended, or even shut down permanently.
This means that a power outage overnight in a restaurant with temperatures above 41 degrees Fahrenheit in a powerless cooler in the morning, could mean more food thrown away and wasted. The FDA does not allow food placed in commercial coolers to above these temperatures to be served and cooked to potential customers.
There are even rules on how food should be thawed when taken out of freezers. Doing it improperly might also mean wasting 30 pounds of what appears to us to be good food.
So why are they wasting so much food over this? Because of food pathogens that can grow on the food when certain conditions are met, that in this case, happens above or below a set temperature. These can lead to severe illnesses and health problems if they are not maintained, regardless of how the food looks to the naked eye.
Restaurants also must wear gloves when touching food they are preparing and serving to customers. Touching the food without gloves is an unsafe practice that can cause the disposal of entire meal.
Coughing/Sneezing on food will result in disposal, and even a single stand of found falling into the wrong place can also result in in disposal of large quantities of food.
With all that said, you can be reassured that restaurants want to sell as much food as possible, since that is how they make their money. They do not usually, casually, chunk food in the garbage just because they can. It is their source of making income after all.
Reasons Restaurants Throw Away Food Besides The FDA & Health Reasons
Now of course there are other reasons why restaurants might toss food away that have nothing to do with the FDA or food borne illnesses. These reasons are left fully in the control of the higher ups running the restaurants. These decisions are often times out of the control of the GM (General Manager) and the rest of management.
Corporate might make these choices to waste food because the food is out of season. It may be something seasonal that was added to the menu to boost sales, but now that the season is over, it is no longer on the menu because they took it off, so they waste it. Depending on the business, they will give it to the employees to have, give it to charity if possible, or just throw it away.
Another reason a restaurant might throw food away is because of appearance, or presentation. This means that if the food just didn’t look appetizing to the customer, then they might just decide to waste it instead of serving it. For example, the food might not fit the normal shape of what they usually sell to the customers, so they decide to waste it to avoid the hassle of customers seeing it or even worrying about it.
Sometimes there are manufacture issues when they receive their products that have nothing to do with health concerns that would cause them to make the decision to waste the product, rather than sell it. They could reason many packages that are missing all the bottom buns for hamburger buns.
Sometimes the color of the food doesn’t look like it naturally does, even though there is nothing really wrong with the food. It could have been cooked too long, or just simply had too much of a specific ingredient that’s causing it to look that way. Either way, the restaurant might decide to waste it rather than sell it.
When restaurants do their orders to refill their stock on food, sometimes new GM’s order the wrong thing, so they throw it away. It could be a cheese that looks the same, but is completely different. It happens all the time.
The presentation of the food itself is very important to well established restaurants and can hurt their sells if not maintained. So, restaurants make decisions all the time to throw food away instead of risking their sales and reputation.
The fact is that sometimes giving good food to customers that looks a little different or weird does often get thrown away or returned anyway, so the restaurants are doing it before they even serve it. They would sometimes prefer to sell good looking food all together and just avoid the hassle.
The concern of many restaurants is not how much food they are wasting, but how much profit they are making. If food waste is affecting profits, then they are concern about food waste.