Composting, recycling, and food donations have an important relationship with food safety. We have a growing food waste problem. In the United States, an estimated $165 billion in food is wasted each year (1). Alongside food waste, 1 in 6 people get a foodborne illness every year. So, how can restaurants and other foodservice businesses reduce food waste while also fighting foodborne illness? Is it too costly to do both?

How are food waste & food safety linked?

The food industry is one of the largest sources of food waste in the United States. Unfortunately, within the foodservice industry, waste occurs throughout every step and every system. From farms to distributors, food is being lost at a high rate.

Main causes of food waste

Pre-harvest losses are shown to be an early cause of food waste. According to sources, more than half of vegetable crops are not harvested, due to failed seed germination (2). In some cases, food products are disposed of because of their imperfect appearance. Outside of farms, there are other reasons for food waste (3):

  • Recall of food products
  • Reduction of quality (bruising of products and produce)
  • Spoilage in processing and packaging
  • Large quantities of food disposed from catering establishments and households
  • Discarded products based on food labeling

Proper training ensures less food waste

According to the FDA, 20% of food is wasted due to confusion over date labeling. Most consumers confuse the "best if used by" phrase as the expiration date. Currently, manufacturers can apply labels at their own discretion; however, the food industry is moving toward consistent, uniform date labeling practices (4). Restaurant operators should remain up to date with food policies and guidelines.

From food manufacturing to quick-service restaurants (QSR), food safety training and certifications are recommended. Although requirements differ from state to state, food safety training can create great habits across your teams to mitigate food loss.

How can restaurants reduce waste and save money?

The U.S. retail food sector generates 8 million tons of waste a year in distribution centers and stores, or $18 billion a year in lost value. The average U.S. retailer loses 10 to 15 cents earnings per share (EPS) from food waste. Food Market Institute

Much of food waste is a result of inadequate food safety practices.  Following food safety guidelines can cut your food waste and thus save your establishment money. According to a study, restaurants can save on average $7 for every $1 invested in kitchen food waste reduction practices (5). The USDA states spoilage is a large cause of such waste. There are some ways food service managers can incorporate food safety with their waste reduction efforts.


Composting reduces pest and sanitization issues if you use the appropriate containers for compostable material.  These containers should be sanitized and regularly cleaned, following food safety guidelines. Only food products designated for compost should be kept in these containers.

Food Donations

Food banks often lack enforced hygiene training. With the appropriate training, food donation is a great solution to combat food waste. Recently the Food Donation Improvement Act was introduced. This act aims to clear up labeling standards and provide liability protection to food donating establishments (6).

Food Safety Culture

A way to combat food spoilage is to have ensured all levels of your establishment are properly trained. Your day-to-day operations will run smoother and will be aligned with federal and local guidelines. Employers with a large frontline workforce should ensure their team is up-to-date with training, but that can be hard to keep track of. Mobile learning and digital training are great ways to strengthen these food safety practices.