The importance of minimizing food waste is nearly as universally understood as the importance of good health. But in both cases, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing a better job than you really are.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone looking to shed a few pounds. You might decide to go to a 5-day fitness boot camp. Even if you achieve your desired weight during that intensive period, you wouldn’t expect to maintain any gains if you went back to your old ways after, would you? It is exactly the same with food-waste prevention programmes in your business — it requires adopting a daily routine, as well as changing your diet.

You would also need to be clear about what parts of your behaviour and thinking need to change to stay on top of your food-waste prevention game. So here are seven common misperceptions that food business operators, including restauranteurs and hotel managers, have when it comes to food waste.

1) We don’t waste that much food (we think)

Ignorance is bliss, at least in some contexts. But in a business one, you can’t manage what you can’t measure is more appropriate. In other words, wasting food = wasting money, so it’s paramount to gain a thorough understanding of what you are wasting to understand how much is wasted, when it’s wasted (which shift of the day, which day of the week – especially delivery days!), where it’s wasted (spoilage? preparation? buffet? plate?), what is wasted, and why.

To get there, all you need are a simple system of color-coded bins and containers, a small kitchen scale, an Excel spreadsheet, and a commitment to do the job to get you started on measuring how much food waste you actually generate.

2) It’s the chefs’ responsibility

Wrong, especially for larger operations with several outlets and dozens of bins that act as “food waste black holes.”

Food waste is the responsibility of everyone who handles food within your organisation, so you have to include all members of staff who come into contact with the produce: your purchasing manager, to integrate knowledge of the shelf-life of products into purchasing decisions; the receiving manager, to thoroughly check the quality of items to avoid spoilage; the storage manager, to monitor expiry dates; service employees to keep an eye on less popular items; and engineers, to run routine checks on the calibration of equipment (especially fridges and ovens) and avoid unnecessary food waste.

3) We forget to explain why we’re saving food

Depending on your geographic and cultural context, your employees may never have learned why wasting food is so bad for the environment (misuse of arable land; chemical inputs in the soil; water waste; waste from packaging; CO2 from transportation, processing, and storage, etc), from a social perspective (the indecency, as up to 900 million people still do not have enough to eat), and for your profitability. Ensure that food waste becomes a topic mentioned to your employees on a daily basis if you expect perspectives and practices to evolve.

4) A stick is more effective than a carrot

It is harder to force people to change their SOPs (standard operating procedures) if you can’t answer the question: “What’s in it for us?”

Simple and inexpensive incentives, such as a “Food Lover of the Month” award, in which you invite your most dedicated employees to eat “like a guest” in your restaurant, can effectively produce effective results. Or set up an employee fund, where a certain percent of the savings made on the food cost percentage will be redistributed and used by employees for staff outings, birthday celebrations or staff parties. Giving people positive reasons to comply is by far the most impactful approach you can adopt to get everyone on board.

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