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Food safety and freshness are of utmost importance to keep your customers and guests safe and your food establishment open. In addition to causing potential foodborne illness (food poisoning), spoiled food causes another threat to your business—a negative impact to your bottom line and reputation. In fact, out of many causes of monetary loss in restaurants, one of the most common is food spoilages and waste.

A few of the most common sources of food waste in restaurants and commercial establishments are:

  1. Overstocking and overbuying
  2. Food spoilage
  3. Large portions
  4. Kitchen mistakes/overproduction
  5. Cross-contamination

Food waste happens at all levels of the supply chain, making it next to impossible to completely prevent food waste in your restaurant or eatery. However, statistics show food waste and spoilage as a key factors for lost profits. According to Business Insider, approximately 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted globally each year – and 40% of that waste is thought to come from restaurants.

Simply having the right storage containers, refrigerators and freezers, or even the right labels to indicate when food is good until or must be sold by could save you thousands of dollars a month.

What Causes the Common Types of Food Spoilage?

If you're asking yourself, "What causes food spoilage?", the definition can be broad.

Food spoilage occurs when any ingredient, food item, or prepared dish can no longer be served or consumed because it does not meet proper standards or has "gone bad." One example of food spoilage is packaged food that's passed its expiration date. Choosing to prepare food beyond its expiration date is often what leads to foodborne illness—along with heavy fines, penalties, and lawsuits.

Pro Tip: Make a protocol for kitchen staff to check expiration dates on packaged foods on a weekly basis to ensure expired food doesn't make it to the customer.

Natural food spoilage is the most common type of spoilage and can occur as a result of many different factors. In addition to natural food spoilage, mold, yeast, and bacteria are all serious risks to the integrity of food. These three causes of microbial spoilage are often responsible not only for waste but also for foodborne illness, commonly referred to as food poisoning. Microbial spoilage ruins food by growing substances within it that change the natural odor, texture, and color of the food from its previous state, making it no longer acceptable to be consumed.

Why does natural food spoilage occur?

  1. Enzymes in the food determine how quickly foods develop and ripen. For example, certain types of fruits and vegetables will ripen and spoil faster or will brown when they are cut open, which means they need to be used sooner or kept in a way that preserves their freshness.
  2. Physical damage when handling food can compromise its integrity or lead to bacterial growth. Keeping food carefully protected before and during preparation is essential to reducing the chance of damage or spoilage.
  3. Temperature changes, such as the way food is stored or drastic temperature shifts can introduce the growth of microorganism to foods. Being aware of what temperature dangerous microorganisms can grow and thrive at can help you keep your food properly stored at the correct temperatures and reduce potential risks.

Common Warning Signs of Food Spoilage

Did you know that mold can be present on food long before you notice the trademark green and blue fuzz? Or that a dog's sense of smell can identify spoiled food days before a human can? Now you don't need X-ray vision or a hound dog's nose to spot the early signs of spoilage (although it wouldn't hurt) but you do need to know a few warning signs.

Here are 4 indicators that the food in your pantry or refrigerator is no longer safe for customers:

  1. Unusual or unpleasant smells
  2. Bruises on the skin of fruits and vegetables
  3. Discoloration other than visible mold
  4. Food that has lost its shape or has become soggy

Preventing Food Spoilage in Your Establishment

Food Spoilage

Organisms like mold and bacteria can cause respiratory issues and allergic reactions, along with other types of illness. Beyond monetary loss, the consequences of serving spoiled food to a guest are significant – food poisoning and your business' reputation being tarnished. This is why teaching and incorporating food safety and storage should be top priority at your food establishment.

The steps you can take to prevent food spoilage include:

  1. Storing fruits and vegetables safely and to prevent damage
  2. Refrigerating meats and dairy products for the proper amount of time and at the right temperature
  3. Organizing refrigerators and pantries by their expiration date
  4. Planning and purchase carefully to avoid over-buying
  5. Storing all food items in a clean, dry location
  6. Training staff to recognize the warning signs of spoiled foods

Preparing & Selling Food By its Expiration Date

Food Storage

The way you organize and store food items in your restaurant can make a big difference in how long they last. For example, at the grocery store, you have likely noticed that the items expiring sooner are usually at the front of the shelves or cabinets. When buying new stock, put all leftovers in the front where you can see them clearly and use them up first. This should apply to any type of item, including fresh produce, dairy, and even dry goods like cans or bags of rice.

If you notice that items are going to expire before you will use them, consider donating them to a local food pantry or shelter so they don't go to waste. It is also essential to remember that germs can pop up anywhere, so anywhere food is stored must be organized and cleaned regularly to prevent contaminants from growing. If moisture is a concern, consider taking steps to ensure cabinets, dry storage, shelves, and refrigerators are kept dry.

Keeping Fruits & Vegetables Fresh to Impress

Food Prep

Storing your perishables properly can be tricky, especially when you have a large quantity of items to store and every type of edible item must be cared for differently. For example, fruits and vegetables should be kept dry before refrigerating and only washed (and dried) before use. If you can, keep them in their original packaging or put them in a food safe container in your refrigerator.

If there is visible dirt on your produce, rinse them and ensure they are dried properly before putting them back in the fridge. Items such as onion and garlic do not need to be refrigerated but instead should be stored separately in a dark place, such as in a sack or bag.

Temperature Control Is Key to Reduce Food Waste

Temperature Control

Any food item that requires refrigeration, such as dairy products, meat, eggs, and drinks need to be stored properly before they are prepared, served, and if there are leftovers after meal service. All prepared food must be kept in the right type of containers or covered properly to ensure that there is no contamination. Additionally, raw and cooked foods should not be stored together.

Consider mapping out areas of your refrigerator based on the temperature needed to keep certain foods at their best and to prevent any risk of dripping, such as putting raw meat at the bottom of your fridge in case it drips, so it won't leak onto anything else. Ensuring that your refrigerator and freezer work properly, having back-up parts for maintenance as needed, and having a plan in case of failure are all important steps to take to reduce food waste in your establishment.

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Only Hubert delivers the expertise and products to solve complex challenges like overcoming the labor shortage, driving more food sales, and creating a memorable experience for customers.

For 75 years we've helped many industries—including hospitality, education, food retail, healthcare, retail, and more—overcome these unique challenges with our expertise and line of products, including displayware, display fixtures, décor, signage, bar & beverage, food prep equipment, large commercial equipment, ice machines, merchandisers, and back of the house equipment.

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Legal Disclaimer: Hubert is not a legal advisor. This document is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal information or advice. All communication from Hubert should be confirmed by your company's legal advisor before making any decisions.