Sustainable Foodservice: A Guide to Food Recovery

Published on : 5/17/24
  • Sustainability is no longer a buzzword; it's a necessity. With 9 out of 10 Canadians advocating for more sustainable habits, the foodservice industry must find a variety of avenues to improve sustainable food practices. Given the sheer size of our operations, we have the power to change things around by implementing agile solutions, like innovative food waste management and ramping up plant-based dining across our service industries. 

    But what about surplus food rescue?

    Recent research indicates that approximately 20% (or 11 million tonnes) of all food produced in Canada annually becomes avoidable food loss or waste.

    We have the power to make a difference not only in our industry but also in the lives of others. Food recovery programs are not just about altruism; they are a tangible way to help our communities while also reducing waste, and they align perfectly with our values of sustainability, community support and compassion.

    Understanding Food Waste and Recovery Solutions

    According to the Government of Canada, food loss and waste refer to food grown, raised, caught, or harvested but never consumed. This includes damaged fruit during transport, spoiled items in grocery stores, uneaten leftovers at home or unserved dishes in restaurants. Food loss occurs before reaching the retail stage, while food waste happens at the retail and consumption stages.

    In our industry, food waste in kitchens often occurs due to pre-consumer losses. These losses stem from several factors, including food that is prepared but not served, surplus inventory of ingredients, and inadequate storage practices.

    Image from: Taking stock: Reducing food loss and waste in Canada

    Of course, the most effective approach to reducing food loss and waste is prevention. However, when excess food cannot be avoided, the priority should be to recover viable food and donate it to hunger relief organizations.

    In that sense, food recovery and donation involve collecting edible food — food waste — and redistributing it to feed people in need. 

    In alignment with guidance from the Canadian Hierarchy of Solutions to Address Food Loss and Waste, this recommendation emphasizes food donation as the second most favourable approach for recovering usable food after source reduction, thereby preventing waste.

    When perfectly consumable food is wasted, valuable resources that could feed billions of hungry people are lost. Hunger is not about a lack of food but rather a lack of consistent access to adequate amounts of healthy food. According to a report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 40% of food losses occur at retail and consumer levels in industrialized countries.

    So, what can we do?

    Steps for Food Recovery and Donations in the Foodservice Industry

    In 2023, our colleagues from Sodexo USA released a comprehensive food recovery toolkit with lessons learned and best practices. The Food Recovery and Donation Guide is an essential resource for Sodexo operators and foodservice operators across the industry to increase food recovery and positively impact the industry.

    The following sections draw from that guide.

    Perceived Barriers to Food Recovery

    Many food service establishments shy away from engaging in food recovery and donation actions because of misconceptions or lack of awareness about the process. Here are some common perceived barriers:

    • My food service operation doesn’t have any leftover food.

    Most establishments have surplus food at some point during the year, whether from ordering, overproduction, or mislabeled items.

    Food service establishments might think they need to have excess food every day to make donating food worthwhile. But food donations are needed even if an establishment only has excess food a few times a month. Food recovery doesn't have to happen every day — it can be seasonal or after a big event.

    • It takes too much time.

    Numerous resources are available to facilitate food recovery and donation. Respected organizations are dedicated to implementing these programs and can provide valuable assistance. While there is a learning curve, devoting time to understanding the process will lead to increased efficiency.

    • It’s too hard to get approval.

    This is your opportunity to educate key decision-makers and demonstrate the win-win opportunity for your business, the environment, and the community.

    What kind of food should be recovered?

    Donations of non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food, including excess inventory that is at risk of not being used, and donations of perishable prepared foods are typically collected from various food establishments. However, it's essential to understand the recipient organization's guidelines and needs to ensure acceptability.

    When and where to donate?

    Food recovery and donation efforts can be carried out daily, weekly, monthly, or annually, presenting numerous opportunities to reduce landfill waste. We encourage collaborating with community organizations specifically targeting food insecurity in marginalized groups. 

    When donating, it's crucial to consider aspects such as transportation, food safety and legal requirements. It’s therefore best to partner with experienced organizations that will ensure adherence to proper procedures and facilitate the transportation process.

    Download the full Food Recovery and Donation Guide

    Addressing the Challenge at Sodexo Canada

    The statistics on food waste in Canada are staggering. As revealed in a recent study from Second Harvest, 3,2 million tonnes of surplus edible food are produced in Canada, and a whopping 96% is not rescued nor redistributed for human consumption, contributing to environmental and social costs. 

    At Sodexo Canada, our food donation program has made a significant impact. According to data collected by our WasteWatch by Leanpath program, we've so far donated 2.4% of pre-consumer food waste, focusing on popular items like casseroles, chicken, and vegetables. In addition to working with local community organizations, we partner with organizations like Second Harvest, La Tablée des Chefs, and Too Good to Go, extending our reach to communities in need. Our commitment to food donation reflects our core values and resonates well with our operators.

    Case Study: Circular Food Solution Challenge

    Sodexo Canada at Saint Francis Xavier University (Morison Hall) partnered with the Antigonish Community Fridge to reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions. They repurposed leftover soup and ingredients from meal periods into frozen soup donations for those in need, producing 200-300 meals weekly for community fridges at the Antigonish farmers market and public library.

    This initiative was part of the Circular Food Solution Challenge, a response to the pressing need for sustainable food waste solutions in Nova Scotia. The challenge demonstrated the importance of collaborating with community organizations and local government entities. It also highlighted the potential for innovation in food repurposing and the role of community engagement in driving the initiative’s success.

    Despite increased meal production, demand outstripped supply, even in a smaller rural community like Antigonish. This underscored the importance of such initiatives and their potential scalability and replicability in other communities. 2,472 soups and 2,214 one-pound meals were donated to the community fridges during the project.

    The success of this project showcases the scalability and replicability of innovative food waste reduction strategies, laying the groundwork for future sustainable food practices.

    Building a Sustainable Future Together

    Food rescue is a practical solution to address both hunger and waste. By overcoming barriers and leveraging partnerships, the foodservice industry can play a vital role in creating a more sustainable and equitable food system. 

    To learn more about our sustainability initiatives, download our latest Better Tomorrow Report.