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Restaurant Caught Reusing Customers’ Uneaten Food

Restaurant Caught Reusing Customers’ Uneaten Food

Beijing restaurant grosses out guests with illicit leftovers

Wikimedia/Suksim

A restaurant in Beijing was recently found to be "recycling" food amongst customers.

Reducing food waste is a noble goal for any restaurant, but it’s a terrible idea to go too far, like one Beijing restaurant that was recently caught reusing customers’ leftover food in dishes for other guests.

According to Shanghaiist, Han Li Xuan Barbecued Meat Market in Beijing, part of a Korean barbecue chain with an all-you-can-eat buffet, was caught in an illicit food-recycling program by a pair of intrepid undercover reporters who filmed employees collecting meat from customers’ trays and re-serving it to unwitting guests.

Acting on tips from restaurant employees, two reporters from Beijing News reportedly applied for jobs at the restaurant. Both were hired after an interview that allegedly lasted less than three minutes, and were quickly brought into the food-mishandling fold.

On their first day, the reporters noticed that “after the lunch rush, more than 10 trays were filled with food remains from other customers, including fish, lunch meat, prawns, beef and watermelon slices,” Shanghaiist’s Jennifer Hui wrote. The food was tidied up and re-plated in the kitchen, then served again to the next crowd of customers.

“All these food remains and uncooked food need to be sent to the back kitchen and taken out from the front kitchen. Then, no one suspects anything,” one employee allegedly told one of the undercover reporters.


Mexican Restaurant Busted for Re-serving Old Chips and Salsa

Look, we’re all concerned about food waste. But for restaurants, there’s definitely a line between not wasting food and getting yourself in trouble with the health department. Taking food off one customer’s table and then serving it to another pretty clearly falls into the latter group, no matter how much those chips “look” like they went untouched.

It’s an issue that recently got Michigan-based restaurant Su Casa Mexican in hot water when the mother of a former employee decided to expose the joint’s chips and salsa policy on Facebook. “My daughter … was told not to throw away the salsa, chips, etc that come back that ‘looked’ like they haven&apost been touched!” Kristie Bowie wrote on the social media site. “She did not feel comfortable with this so asked the owner if it was true. He said is was true so she put her notice in and worked her shift. The owner belittled my daughter telling her she had no common sense…!”

Though the Facebook post had all the telltale signs of someone with an ax to grind, local news station WWMT paid Su Casa Mexican a visit and revealed that, actually, yes, the chips accusation was completely true. In fact, Bowie’s viral post even caught the attention of the health department who also paid the restaurant a visit – and cited the establishment for reusing food.

When confronted by WWMT, owner Edgar Suarez reportedly pled ignorance. “I thought it was okay and the health department said it&aposs not possible, you cannot do that,” the news site quoted Suarez as saying. “I didn&apost realize that even if people did not touch them or they were still in the tray, I thought everything was good.”

Since the citation, Suarez says he’s changed his ways. Meanwhile, the restaurant has remained open the whole time. Hopefully regular customers aren’t disappointed to find out that their favorite “old-chips-that-may-or-may-not-have-a-bite-taken-out-of-them” is no longer on the menu.


To Stop Food Waste, We Need to Confront Our Food Anxiety

Humans throw away about 1.3 billion tons of food a year, or—at the very least—one third of all food in the world. If you loaded that refuse into trucks, they’d wrap bumper-to-bumper around the world seven times. All that waste is detrimental to our planet. In terms of carbon emissions, we toss tomatoes, let the bread go stale, age out our cilantro, and ignore our mustards until we are doing as much damage as every single car and truck on the planet. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter worldwide.

It is more than simply scraps in your fridge going unused that contributes to the problem. It is the whole series of systems, from wasteful habits in the kitchen—Britain generates 3,885 tons of CO2 every day from boiling too much water for tea—to harmful practices on our farms. It is true in our own households but also in corporate cafeterias and stadiums, at weddings and conferences. The problem is so large it’s easy to feel powerless. But the truth is, there are people, companies, municipalities, even app developers working to get it right. To understand their solutions, you first have to grasp the problem.

In the U.S. the biggest source of food waste is food abundance paired with food anxiety. Amid some of the cheapest food in history, many of us over shop, fill the pantry and fridge, and let it rot, to the tune of about $1,600 per person a year, driven as we are by a deeply rooted, maybe even primordial fear that we never have enough food. From this fear of “nothing to eat” springs our love of the big-box store, 12-packs of strawberry yogurt, and three-pound boxes of crackers, plus the dopamine rush of seeing multiple shopping bags in our kitchens.

Endpoint consumers—home cooks and restaurant lovers—are directly responsible for just 1 percent of the total impact of food waste, with 80% of all emissions from food waste occurring on farms. But it’s more layered than that. An onion plowed back into a field (often because it is too small, blemished, or oblong to meet our exacting standards) is not the same as an onion that goes unused in your house. The latter has accumulated a long trail of other wastes—the time and effort of harvesting, the burdens of sorting and transporting, the energy needed for cold storage and display, the money, gasoline, and electricity that bring it to your counter. Letting that onion go soft, and then tossing it, is squandering more than an onion. And it follows that preventing that one piece of end waste makes for a less wasteful marketplace: grocers stock less, thereby cutting their storage bills truckers deliver less, reducing petrol consumption and farmers plant, water, fertilize, harvest, and process a more suitable amount. “Right sizing” our food systems will leave more for the 700 million people worldwide last year who had too little.

“Reducing food waste at the household level creates a chain reaction,” says Kate Astashkina, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross business school who does systems analysis on food waste. “It reduces emissions not just at the downstream tier, it also reduces emissions at every level in the supply chain, all the way back up to the farm.”

There is also massive waste on the industrial scale, when others do the cooking for us. America is filled with food carts and white tablecloth restaurants, fast-food chains and event caterers, hospitals, schools, corporate cafeterias, and wedding event spaces where abundant, even absurd amounts of food are prepared daily. Pre-pandemic we were spending almost $800 billion a year on commercially prepared food of all types. Commercial and institutional kitchens generate 30 to 40 billion pounds of food waste a year, most of it sent to landfills. There it produces large amounts of methane, a global-warming chemical 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, compounding the environmental damage.

So what are we going to do about it? This broken system has come into focus over the last decade, and in 2015 the United Nations issued a goal of eliminating 50% of global food waste by 2030. But the 2020 pandemic, and the unfamiliar sight of barren shelves, forced many Americans to rethink the connections in our food system now, not 10 years from now. What was charming, twee, ecological, or just a good idea pre-pandemic—vegetable gardens, baking your own bread, regrowing scallions on the windowsill—suddenly became essential. More people took more steps to reduce food waste, not with the UN’s goals in mind, but with the supply chain on the brain and a desire to make the most out of every grocery run. The threat of shortages has connected our meals back to their social and economic roots better than abundance ever could.

According to Emily Broad Leib, faculty director of Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, these new habits create an opportunity: “People are being more thoughtful about their food now, looking at food as a crucible for a bunch of different concerns: local and regional food, farm to school, discrimination in those systems. And once you start looking at food, you come to an understanding of how much is going to waste.”

At the consumer level there are small-scale changes each of us can make that ripple up the food chain, from throwing kale stems into smoothies to putting leftovers and other need-to-be-eaten foods front and center in the fridge so we don’t forget about them. (You’ll also find many more suggestions on these pages.) On YouTube, you’ll find advocates for the zero waste movement offering tips on repurposing squash skin for cheese boats, and apple peels into fruit soup. Companies like Apeel, a start-up creating plant-derived skins for fruits and vegetables that increase their shelf life, offer us the chance to choose produce that won’t spoil quite as quickly.

Another way to waste less at home: Shop more often. When we buy what we need for dinner that night, much of it gets cooked. When we buy what we anticipate needing for the week, more of it gets wasted plans change, parsley wilts. Driving to the store more frequently has its environmental downsides, of course, but according to Astashkina, the Michigan expert on food waste, tossing a piece of food, with all the energy, water, transport, and refrigeration that went into creating it, is significantly more costly to the environment.

One study demonstrates that meal kits, like Blue Apron, are another unexpectedly ecological option. Even factoring in the carbon footprint of all that plastic packaging, researchers have found surprisingly strong environmental upsides because they are carpooled to your door with other orders in your neighborhood. And critically, they offer exact portion sizes, so there are no remaining single celery stalks or quarter cans of tomato paste for you to forget about.

And what about the waste that happens outside our homes, in restaurants, grocery stores, and corporate cafeterias? One solution is a bundle of apps focused on food redistribution. In London, the social media app Olio lets volunteers (“food waste heroes”) distribute expiring food from supermarkets to communities in need. The app Too Good to Go tracks end-of-day food sales everywhere from Copenhagen to New York, alerting users when the bakery down the block is selling that day’s goods at a steep discount. Discounts can change by the hour or pop up along your route as you head home, effectively gamifying food waste.

For commercial kitchens, there are also new smart scales that track food waste and refrigerators that notice when the very first strawberry goes bad—warning you to use the rest, now.

Of course there are nonprofits tackling the problem of large-scale waste from cafeterias, retailers, and industrial kitchens, like Urban Gleaners in Portland, Oregon, which collects surplus, often from grocers rotating new goods into place, and sends it to schools and communities experiencing food insecurity. Last year the Gleaners collected 1.2 million pounds of uneaten food. When I talked to Tracy Oseran, who founded the Gleaners 16 years ago, she told me her original motivation was a heartsick feeling as she left a restaurant and saw how much food was in the dumpster as others went hungry. But now she summed up her motivation to end food waste in two words: “Climate change.”

Even with hundreds of foot soldiers in the fight against such waste, the systems of redistribution are so inefficient that there are many missed opportunities to send food from those who have too much to those who have too little. What if we could mechanize it? That, it turns out, is what Google is trying to do. It jumped into the fray with the Google Food for Good project, which aims to help food banks collect and distribute with peak efficiency. Right now there’s no good way for food producers or retailers to communicate with food banks a grocery store might have excess bananas without the neighborhood food bank—or a group like the Gleaners—knowing it.

The initiative has developed software to help facilitate communication and to better predict waste from institutional sources. This could turn the guessing game of how many donations a food bank will get from, say, a major sports venue with periodic oversupplies of food, into a science. Google has also deployed an artificial intelligence system in its own cafes that orders less of anything routinely wasted. Food for Good project leader Emily Ma predicts that within a few decades, machine learning could introduce so much efficiency into food markets that total food production could be matched to consumption almost exactly, a vision of near zero waste.

Tech companies, Good Samaritans, apps, and appliance engineers are all chipping away at the problem. What about governments? Some states are turning to legislation, like Massachusetts, which has effectively run out of room in its landfills. As a result the state government sharply raised its fees for dumping garbage while steadily cutting how much food can be dumped by big institutional kitchens and restaurants that find it cheaper to waste food than have too little to sell. Massachusetts is one of six states that has capped how much food can be dumped by food service companies, and it works. Food waste declines as caterers, grocers, and restaurants reduce, reuse, repurpose, and compost what they produce. And it gets better: Food donations increase as well. Massachusetts saw donations jump 22% when it imposed limits. “It’s the single most transformative thing we are seeing,” says Broad Leib of Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “It forces people to see that food has value.”

Date labeling is another critical step the government could take in the fight against food waste. There are no federal laws on how foods are marked for expiration—only a 50-state patchwork of “best by” or “use by” recommendations. Few consumers can navigate the difference between mandatory “sell by” dates (required for certain highly perishable foods like dairy) and the more common array of ambiguous “best by” and “recommended by” labels (which are mere suggestions, timed for peak flavor, that are placed on foods often safe far longer). The confusing nomenclature “is a driver of so much of the food that’s wasted in the household and by grocery stores and retailers,” Broad Leib says, as grocers and home cooks toss perfectly good food with approaching “best by” dates. Creating national standards for date labels would be “an easy win” and the single most cost-effective way to reduce food waste, she says.

And within agriculture, the regenerative farming movement seeks to make agriculture into a net gain for the environment. Conventional farming with tilling, pesticides, and herbicides, kills off microorganisms and makes most soil release more carbon than it absorbs. Regenerative farms reverse this, paring back wasteful production practices, reducing water and fertilizer use, and planting crops that store carbon in the soil instead of the atmosphere, making soil “the most overlooked carbon sink on earth,” according to Josh Tickell, author of Kiss the Ground, a book (and subsequent film) on the movement.

There’s another easy step that we can take in the fight against food waste: View it as a chance to eat better. Claire Sprouse, a bartender and sustainability activist and the owner of Hunky Dory in Brooklyn, described wasted food to me as “a lost opportunity to learn, a lost opportunity to find flavors.” Sprouse has become a teacher and an advocate for cutting food waste across the service industry. But she doesn’t do it by lecturing her peers or her customers. “We’re not in the business of saying no to people,” she says of the hospitality industry.

She has stopped using the term zero waste because “it makes sustainability sound unachievable.” Instead, she focuses on the delights—and cost savings—of trimming waste. That positivity lures diners into trying recycled ingredients, like the flavored syrups she makes from celery leaves, rosemary stems, and even coffee grounds. Any leftover ingredient plowed back into cuisine is “free food!” she exults. Even the whey left over from making yogurt or mozzarella can add a touch of viscosity and acid to a drink or dish. “We’re discovering flavors and ideas we never came across before,” Sprouse says. The result is “creative and unique offerings for the menu that put us ahead of the curve.”

Food waste is really about lost knowledge, Sprouse told me. The key is simply opening our eyes to the issue, because “being better is always a good start.”


Upcycled food: A sustainable second chance for food loss and waste

I took the first bite with trepidation but was pleasantly surprised by the taste of a sandwich containing an item I routinely throw into the garbage bin — banana peels. This eye-opening (or rather palate-expanding) experience took place in a UC Davis classroom in the spring of 2019, where I teach. I was participating as a faculty judge in a food product development competition.

There, a number of student teams were providing taste tests of their novel food items made with “upcycled” ingredients, including the aforementioned bbq “pulled pork” banana peel sandwich. Over the course of the event, I realized I was not only tasting the hard-earned flavors and textures developed over many student-hours logged in the campus test kitchen, I was also tasting the future of a more sustainable food system.

As defined by the emergent Upcycled Food Association, “upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment.” The potential for reducing the environmental impact of food has been a key driver for the upcycled food movement. Upcycling entrepreneurs have been inspired by the shocking statistic that roughly 30-35 percent of all food produced, both nationwide and globally, is lost or wasted at some point along the food supply chain. When this food goes uneaten, all the resource investments of land, water, energy and other material inputs needed to grow, process, package and deliver the food, are lost as well. Meanwhile, agriculture and livestock production represent approximately 10 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, so wasted food carries a significant portion of this environmental burden as well.

With upcycling, food that was previously wasted can be recovered for human consumption, and thus, the environmental costs of upstream resource inputs and GHG emissions are not borne in vain. Fundamentally, upcycling allows us to “do more with less” in our food system. If we eat more of the food we are already producing, it reduces the pressure to expand food production to meet growing demand from increasing population and shifting diets.

Along with these avoided environmental costs, there is also ample opportunity for economic gain. Upcycling is fundamentally based on recovering low-value food losses and returning this material to the food supply chain as a value-added retail food product. ReFED, the leading U.S.-based nonprofit focused on food loss and waste, estimates the market potential for upcycled food products to be roughly $2.7 billion per year. This comes with the added benefits of diverting 1.87 million tons of waste from landfills, reducing GHG emissions by 4.85 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, saving 446 billion gallons of water and creating nearly 3,000 jobs.

The combined economic, social and environmental return on investment, or “triple bottom line,” of food upcycling has caught the attention of entrepreneurs, investors and multinational food companies. In the last few years, a range of novel products has made its way onto retail shelves that include upcycled ingredients, such as:

spent grains leftover from brewing beer

okara, or soy pulp, generated from the production tofu and soymilk

surplus and cosmetically imperfect produce from farms

aquafaba, the residual liquid from cooking chickpeas

the coffee cherry fruit that surrounds the coffee bean in cultivation

While adding value to food waste streams may seem like a new phenomenon, it is just the latest example of converting waste-to-value in the food system. In fact, farmers and food producers have been generating innovative upcycling solutions throughout history. From drinking cheese whey as a health tonic in Ancient Greece to the invention of baby carrots in the 1980s, we have been practicing upcycling for millennia. However, despite these ancient roots, the upcycling movement has undeniably gained new energy and momentum in recent years — including being identified as a top 10 food trend in 2021 by Whole Foods Markets. Further, where previous waste-to-value producers generally downplayed the waste origins of their products, the new generation of upcycling producers highlight it as a badge of honor.

This pivot in messaging by the new upcycling movement provides an excellent opportunity for education and discussion about our food systems. It encourages storytelling and motivates innovation. I saw this firsthand when advising a team of students as they developed a new food product derived from the fruit and vegetable pulp from a local juicery. They ultimately succeeded in winning an award from our annual UC Davis business competition, not only because their product tasted great, but also because they had the compelling story of upcycling baked into their recipe.

The upcycled food business community now has a chance to tell this story broadly to consumers through the Upcycled Certification Standard, which I had an input on as a member of the Upcycle Foods Standards Committee. Launched in 2021, the standard establishes clear criteria for producers to place a label on their product packaging, which quickly and clearly signals to a consumer that a food item is a certified upcycled product. As a result, food producers tell their story of upcycling directly to their customers, and customers gain a new perspective on the environmental, social and economic benefits of upcycling within our shared food system.

Now are you ready for your banana peel sandwich?

Edward Spang is an assistant professor of food science and technology at UC Davis, faculty lead for the UC Davis Food Loss and Waste Collaborative, and member of the Upcycled Foods Standards Committee.


Step 2: Conduct a waste audit

The next step is to get a picture of what you’re restaurant’s daily waste looks like. There are a lot of different ways you can do this. You can create a team from your own staff to analyze your waste. Or you can hire an outside firm to do it. Just make sure someone is in charge.

Then, start sorting your waste . Place food scraps from prep work in one trash can. Put spoiled food in another. Put post-consumer waste in a third. This will give you an idea of how much waste you’re producing and how. It will also allow you to visualize your waste. For example, if cooks are tasked with throwing away burned food in one specific location, they’ll have to see how much their mistakes are costing the restaurant. Just that visualization might be enough to motivate staff to be more careful about what they waste. At the very least, it will make them aware.

This is also the point in the process where you should make sure your entire staff is on board with your mission to cut down on waste. Make sure everyone understands why this is necessary (because it will save money and ultimately be better for the success of the restaurant). If everyone isn’t doing their part during your waste audit, the results won’t be accurate.


Five-Star Dining on Leftover Scraps?

WASTE NOT | Using everything from pig’s ears to stems and leaves, chefs like Blue Hill’s Dan Barber in New York and Amass’s Matt Orlando in Copenhagen are leading the charge to run restaurants that waste next to nothing.

IN WHAT WILL LIKELY go down as one of 2015’s most influential moments in dining, for 19 days in March chef Dan Barber served food waste to eager gourmands, some of whom stood in line for hours outside his renowned West Village restaurant, Blue Hill, waiting for a seat. This wasn’t just another case of cool-hunting New Yorkers getting boondoggled—it was the experimental pop-up event wastED, Barber’s bold gambit to prove that an entire menu of delicious meals worthy of the highest critical acclaim could be built from ingredients and materials that most restaurants would toss into the trash without a second thought. Journalists, critics, chefs and foodies descended in droves to see if the unlikely conceit could be pulled off. In the dining room, clamorous with excited conversation and illuminated by flickering candles constituted from beef tallow, guests munched on imaginative dishes composed entirely of culinary castoffs. Waiters circulated with plates of veggie burgers whose patties were made from juicing machine pulp, fried skate wings, kale ribs, charred pineapple cores with lime leaf ice cream or a vegetable salad assembled from damaged produce sliced so thinly that the pieces looked like the petals of windblown flowers.

The event was a tipping point, foregrounding the topic of food waste—the culinary hot-button issue of the day and a serious economic and environmental concern—in the wider cultural consciousness. About a third of the food produced in the world goes uneaten, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization the industry consortium Food Waste Reduction Alliance estimates that approximately 40 million tons of it piles up in landfills in the U.S. each year. Alternative subcultures like freegans have long recognized that much of what ends up in the trash is still technically good eating, and unnecessarily discarded. Lately, governments have begun responding to the problem: France recently passed a law banning major supermarkets from destroying unsold food, which they will now be compelled to donate to charities or use for animal feed.

Cities across America have begun instituting food-scrap recycling and composting programs—San Francisco has set itself a goal of generating zero waste by 2020, meaning it would send nothing to landfills or incinerators. Austin plans to reduce the waste it sends to landfills by 90 percent by 2040. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has lent his support to Europe’s “ugly food” movement, which seeks to popularize misshapen or bruised fruits and vegetables that supermarkets often reject. And now, led by trailblazers like Barber, the fine-dining world is adopting the cause, demonstrating that resourceful, sustainable kitchen practices are perfectly compatible with the highest level of quality.

A who’s who of the food world—including Danny Bowien, April Bloomfield, Mario Batali, Grant Achatz and Daniel Humm—served as guest chefs at the wastED event, each preparing a special dish on the menu and bringing back the ideas expounded by the program to cross-pollinate among their own staffs. In pockets around the world, the food-waste movement has already gained steam. In Melbourne, Australia, Joost Bakker’s restaurants, Silo and Brothl (now shuttered due to a permit disagreement with the local council), ran as zero-waste operations for two and a half years, turning rainwater and the scraps from some of the city’s finest restaurants into soup soon afterward, broth became a major New York food trend. And Bakker’s use of a composting machine that reduced the volume of organic refuse by up to 90 percent in 24 hours was then adopted by Alex Atala of D.O.M in São Paulo, Brazil, and René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen.

“Nose to tail, root to stem—all of that is really just how you run a restaurant,” Barber tells me. When Barber opened Blue Hill in 2000, it was one of the first in the country to make the farm-to-table ethos central to its identity. Yet it was Barber’s research for his book, The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, which examined that very ethos in a larger agricultural context, that led him to believe that our country’s natural abundance is precisely what gives us the easy way out. Why bother to do anything with healthy, flavorful waste when landfill is cheap? Scarcity and necessity have typically been the driving forces behind rescuing food waste. Ultimately, the pulp burger at WastED was an art project of sorts, an aesthetic experience that represented a kind of triumph of form elevating content. Beyond the obvious ecological benefits, what has drawn many chefs to the movement is the technical, almost alchemical challenge of making ingredients that diners might typically find unlovely into delicious and appealing meals—a new realm of culinary innovation and experimentation.


Food Interview

I&rsquove been noticing some pretty arresting billboards while driving around Albuquerque lately. The one that really caught my eye (and that&rsquos pictured on top of this article) features a carton of milk with &ldquoBest if used&rdquo printed on it. &ldquo40% of food in America is wasted&rdquo reads the ad&mdashit&rsquos not often that a bare statistic can relay such a powerful message. That statistic, which came from a landmark study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, translates to roughly 400 pounds of food per person going into landfills each year.

Why is food waste such a big deal? For one, because it&rsquos food that could be going towards feeding the one in eight Americans who regularly goes hungry. For another, throwing out food&mdashwhether because it&rsquos spoiled or we just don&rsquot want it&mdashwastes all of the resources that went into making that food: the freshwater, farmland, manual labor, fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow it, and the energy required to harvest, transport and regulate temperature. Food waste also accounts for 21 percent of the contents of landfills and 37 million cars&rsquo worth of greenhouse gas emissions annually in the US.

These ads are from Save the Food, a joint campaign of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council to increase awareness of the huge nationwide problem of food waste and the changes we can all make to address it. Through their website, Save the Food offers everyday strategies on how to better store food to keep it fresher longer, shopping and meal plans that help you buy the right amount of food in the first place and recipes that use up food scraps you&rsquod normally throw out (strawberry top rosé granita? Yes please.) While food waste is a systemic problem that will require large-scale solutions, those solutions start with the individual decisions we make on a daily basis.

I recently spoke with Andrea Spacht, the Sustainable Food Systems Specialist at NRDC and a part of the Healthy People and Thriving Communities Program about the Save the Food campaign and its origins.

Weekly Alibi: When did Save the Food come to be, and what was the impetus to start this campaign?

Andrea Spacht: The campaign launched its first round of work in April 2016, which includes TV, online video, radio, print, out of home, digital and mobile assets. In the US, we waste more than 50 billion pounds of food in our homes each year. NRDC partnered with the Ad Council to create a PSA campaign encouraging Americans to make simple lifestyle changes and learning how to properly store a wide variety of foods to help &ldquoSave the Food.&rdquo

How much food, on average, is wasted in America? What are the consequences of this waste? And what do we stand to gain by wasting less?

Estimates vary widely, but in the US, we waste somewhere between 37 million tons (according to EPA) and 102 million tons (according to UN FAO) depending on the data sources, food system stages included and disposal destinations included.

Even with the most sustainable practices, our food system uses enormous resources. Nationwide, food production consumes up to 16 percent of energy, uses almost half of land and accounts for 67 percent of freshwater use. Those resources are used in vain when food goes uneaten. Currently, food waste uses up one-fifth of US cropland, fertilizers and agricultural water, and is a significant contributor to climate change&mdashequivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 37 million cars. That&rsquos a loss of up to $218 billion each year, costing a household of 4 an average of $1,800 annually.

Wasting less food can help stabilize food demand even as population grows, thereby conserving resources for generations to come.

What goals is Save the Food trying to accomplish? How do you go about doing this?

The Save The Food campaign aims to give consumers the resources and tools to prevent food from going to waste. The campaign has two main goals: to raise awareness about food waste and to encourage every American to be a part of the solution. The campaign encourages Americans to make simple lifestyle changes like making shopping lists, freezing food and using leftovers to reduce waste in their own homes.

What are some other food waste projects you&rsquove worked on at NRDC? How do you work with cities to help them reduce food waste?

NRDC has a robust approach to addressing food waste. We advocate for federal, state and local policy to drive change. We recently completed innovative research to determine the types, quantities and reasons for food waste in the residential and business sectors as well as the potential for surplus food rescue. NRDC is working with cities to create long-term, holistic and replicable approaches for tackling our wasted food challenge. We launched a food waste reduction pilot program in Nashville in 2016, and another in Denver recently.

California has been pretty progressive in introducing new policies that help keep food out of landfills&mdashnew &ldquoBest if used by&rdquo labeling, city-sponsored composting services and Good Samaritan laws that make it easier and safer to donate food&mdashwhat can New Mexico do at a legislature level to catch up?

New Mexico could replicate any of those policies! New Mexico could implement tax incentives to help farmers and food businesses redirect surplus, wholesome food to food banks and community members facing food insecurity (often called farm-to-foodbank tax incentives). New Mexico could start measuring its food waste and set reduction goals. The state could also invest in infrastructure to help businesses and residents recycle organic matter. Nearly every strategy on our Call To Action could be implemented on the state level (except that strategy 5: standardizing food date labels would have the biggest impact if done on a national scale).

How would you like to see Americans change their eating (and cooking, food storage and food wasting) habits?


The Right Way to Reheat for the Juiciest Prime Rib

The juicy prime rib roast that was a huge hit for dinner last night can make a return appearance as a superstar leftover. Here are a few suggestions on the best ways to reheat prime rib.

Proper storage is key. As soon as dinner&aposs finished, wrap any leftover prime rib tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze. While it&aposs best the next day, leftover prime rib is good for between five and seven days in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer. For best results, keep the leftover prime rib intact rather than slicing it. If there&aposs leftover au jus, drizzle a few tablespoons over the leftover meat before wrapping. To reheat from frozen, defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before following these steps.

How to Reheat Prime Rib

It&aposs nearly impossible to reheat prime rib without losing some of the rosy red color many diners crave, but you can come close to duplicating the original meal by being patient, and reheating the meat very slowly. The best way to get close to retaining a medium rare finish is to earmark the thickest part of the roast for reheating.

Place the leftover roast in a pan and cover with foil. To retain the succulent quality of the meat, add a little au jus from the previous day, or 1/4 cup of low-sodium beef stock.

Place in a preheated 300-degree oven for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the piece. The USDA recommends that reheated leftover meat reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which is well beyond medium rare at 140 degrees. This version doesn&apost need to rest before being sliced and served, unlike the prime rib served fresh (which should rest at least 10 minutes to allow the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat.)

If keeping the meat as pink as possible isn&apost an issue, it&aposs acceptable to reheat a slice of prime rib in the microwave, starting with 30 second intervals, checking the temperature between blasts. This method sacrifices some of the meat&aposs tenderness in exchange for speed and convenience.


Food waste in restaurants: out of home, out of mind?

Research (pdf) we did for WRAP last year revealed that more than a quarter of respondents left food the last time they ate out. When asked generally about whether they were concerned about leaving food, close to three fifths said they were not concerned.

UK pubs, restaurants, take-aways and hotels generate 600,000 tonnes of food waste. While some of this is made up of things like peelings and bones, the majority is perfectly good food - and it's estimated that a third (pdf) of it comes from diners.

Avoidable out of home food waste costs more than £720m a year. Combined with the 4.2m tonnes of household food and drink thrown away annually - the equivalent of six meals every week for the average UK household - at a cost of £12.5bn (pdf), the financial cost of food waste is substantial. The environmental impact is significant too - the lack of oxygen in landfill causes food to break down anaerobically producing methane a greenhouse gas considerably more potent than CO2.

Efforts to influence people's eating-out behaviour need to be carefully composed, to reflect our complex relationships with food. Many people eat out of the home as a treat, and don't want to feel guilty about what they're eating or leaving. Some 59% of people surveyed agreed with the statement 'I don't want to have to think about leaving food when I eat out'. So providing information in restaurants and pubs about food waste is unlikely to be effective or appealing.

Q. Which food do you think is most often left uneaten?
A. Chips

Of the 27% who claimed to leave food, 32% said they left chips. Food considered as plate fillers like chips, vegetables, and salad are most likely to remain uneaten. Some also thought of salad garnishes as ornamental, rather than something to eat.

Most commonly left food items when eating ‘out of home’. Brook Lyndhurst for WRAP (2013) Photograph: www.istockphoto.com

Q. What is the main reason people leave food when eating out?
A. 41% said portions are too big.

This was the most popular reason for leaving food. However, the reason for leaving food is more complex with a mix of habits, values and social norms all at play:

If eating more than one course, people will often leave part of their main dish and accompanying sides so they can eat a starter or pudding.
People who said that they were eating out for the experience as opposed to "refueling" were more likely to leave food.
There is also the possibility that some people just value food less than others. Those who left food when eating out were also more likely to leave food cooked at home.
Who we eat meals with also has an influence. Nearly a quarter of respondents agreed with the statement: "When eating out, how much I eat depends on who I'm with" and some participants spoke of not wanting to appear greedy.

Working towards clean plates

What can be done to make sure customers remain satisfied, but less food ends up being wasted? Action is well underway in the food and hospitality sector, with dozens of organisations signed up to WRAP's voluntary agreement to reduce waste. Last year Unilever also launched an app facilitating food businesses to look at food waste generation. By identifying what kinds of food are being wasted, and why, businesses can adapt their processes.

Greater menu flexibility may also help to tackle those wasted chips and vegetables. Making it evident that requests for food customisation are encouraged (eg swapping chips for mashed potato, or salad for vegetables) ensures customers are less likely to receive items they won't finish.

Offering different portions sizes is another option, as some businesses already do by providing light or starter sized versions of main courses. Customers naturally expect to pay less, 83% liked the idea of a cheaper, smaller menu option.

What about the good old doggy bag? Well, though 42% of people agreed with the statement 'asking for a container to take leftovers home is embarrassing', there was still enthusiasm for venues to proactively offer doggy bags for taking away leftover food. 74% of respondents were in favour of being offered doggy bags, and the Sustainable Restaurant Association has championed this option as part of their Too Good to Waste campaign.

By addressing the provision and communication of different portion sizes, both technically with industry and behaviourally with staff and customers, we can achieve cleaner plates at the end of a meal out.

Geoff King and Sara Giorgi are senior researcher, and associate director, at independent strategy and research sustainability consultancy Brook Lyndhurst @BrookLyndhurst.

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14. Olive Garden never, ever reuses uneaten breadsticks.

Hopefully, all restaurants follow this rule.

I can’t say I haven’t wondered whether or not my chips/breadsticks were at someone else’s table before mine. (You have to wonder, right?) Thankfully, Reddit user SellinThings has confirmed that the restaurant definitely doesn’t reuse their breadsticks. Bonus: If you work there, you can eat as many breadsticks as you’d like, all day, every day.


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