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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Aparicio

All trash and no treasure. How restaurants can help reduce food waste.

Food. We love it! We also throw almost half of it away. Of all the food produced in the U.S every year, 40% gets thrown into our landfills. 160 billion lbs....wasted. 33 billion lbs. of that comes directly from restaurants. For perspective, that's the equal weight of 155 Ford Class aircraft carriers.

Ford Class Aircraft Carrier with two people at the bow
155 of these. But food.

Sending $162 billion in food loss related costs to the actual dump every year is not the restaurant industry's idea of a good time. And all that food going to waste is even more concerning when you consider that there are 35 million people facing food insecurity in just the U.S every day.

Garbage can full of money
Usually not great for business

But even once that food is wasted, it still haunts us from the landfill, as it breaks down into methane and pollutes our planet's atmosphere for years to come. Businesses and the communities they serve have plenty to gain from restaurants lowering their role in creating food waste. Today, we are starting to see solutions that may be the first steps towards achieving that goal.


Keeping a digital eye on food waste

One approach involves tracking food waste using machine vision. By placing smart cameras above areas where food is thrown away, the system can identify exactly which foods are being wasted.

Machine Vision System identifying food waste in a trash bin
Foods can be precisely recognized by the machine vision system in this example from Winnow Solutions

The information is stored as data and analyzed by machine learning AI, which pinpoints and reports valuable insights on the company's operations. Insights can include the cost and patterns of food being wasted as well as suggested actions to reduce it in the future. The ability to manage food waste at a superhuman level is a powerful concept and companies like Orbisk's Zero Food Waste and Winnow Solutions are focused on making it reality. Using machine vision, over 70 million lbs. of restaurant food waste has been prevented by just these two companies. That's an amazing start and it's hard not to think about the potential impact of widespread application.


Feeding AI our POS data

Another approach to the problem is enhanced forecasting, where self learning AI is used to make predictions with previously impossible accuracy. This technology integrates into a restaurant's point of sales system to access data on order amounts, sales, recipes, inventory, waste and more. The more data it analyzes, the more accurate and further into the future it's predictions. Companies like Tenzo and Hitachi can reduce error by 30% - 50% in comparison to a human and continuously improve. This level of analysis could power a reduction in food waste from the future restaurant industry.


Mobile apps reroute fresh meals

There's also software driven apps and services that connect surplus food from restaurants, to people who want or, in some cases, need it. For businesses, donating extra meals has been an expensive logistical hassle for a long time. Services like Copia and Goodr are making it simple. Once a restaurant schedules through the app, these services handle the pickup, packaging, delivery and legal processes of donating prepared foods. Already that's huge, but there's more to it. Some of these apps will even track and return detailed analytics on which specific foods are being wasted and the ways to prevent it. Tech enabled commercial donating is able to divert literal tons of future food from waste to aid, if it gets the chance.

"Hunger is the world's dumbest problem" - Copia

Restaurants can also choose to sell extra food at lowered prices to prevent waste. That's the idea behind apps like GoMkt, TooGoodToGo, and FoodforAll. Users can browse excess meals from local businesses offered at a discount, usually near closing time. Having an efficient way to connect those customers to food that would be wasted will go a long way in getting more businesses on board. In return everyone saves money, time, and the planet. A win - win....- win scenario.


Progress through inspiration

The restaurant industry is changing. Technology can enhance the dining experience to the benefit of us all, and food waste is just one of many areas it can help us improve. Solutions like the these can give us a glimpse into the future of food waste and the industry as a whole. At The Automat, innovation inspires how we feed our communities and we are privileged to spotlight such awesome technologies through the Bite for Byte blog. Subscribe so you won't miss what we cover next!

Bite for Byte Blog Logo from The Automat
Thanks for reading!

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