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Sustainable practices in Food Service Management

Food services are dependent upon a complex supply chain, involving a multitude of food producers and/or providers. Examples, manufacturers, distributors, food service companies, equipment installers, maintenance services, waste management companies and consumers among others.

A sustainable supply chain works to incorporate products and services that reduce environmental impact and provide improved health benefits and/or positive social impacts as a result of the preparation and/or delivery of the meal. From advances in packaging that minimize volume and weight to efficient routing and on-time delivery of food, there are numerous activities that yield beneficial results. In this case, by reducing the volume of packing materials, food can be transported more efficiently on trucks and by forklifts within warehouses. Additionally, less solid waste is produced. With such changes, both environmental and economic benefits are realized.

A food service provider may be limited by the preferences and priorities of the customer or client, thereby restricting the implementation of even the best ideas. At the same time, many customers and clients take leadership positions on certain sustainable initiatives because they believe it is the right thing to do, they recognize the public relations benefits or see the direct financial benefits. In both circumstances, the food service manager is positioned to provide recommendations to improve sustainable practices.

Ultimately, the food service provider is responsible for understanding sustainable food service attributes, assessing the viability of both best practices and innovative ideas, and aligning with customer and client sustainability goals to support the customers and community he or she serves.

When considering the implementation and expansion of a sustainable procurement plan, first take into account the products already being purchased, lessons from previous failed expansions and shifts of current consumer demand. It is important to understand the pros and cons of purchasing produce that is locally sourced but grown using pesticides, or organically grown but shipped over many miles.

In developing a sustainable procurement plan, conduct a market assessment by considering consumer demand, product availability, food safety requirements, cost and logistics. When focusing specifically on sourcing a particular product, partner with local distributors and suppliers to determine product availability. If certain products are more expensive than others, determine if an additional cost is acceptable, and if so, how much.

Over time, build a responsible procurement plan, adjusting to meet changing factors. After successes have been achieved with a few items, add a few more. By taking steps, it may be possible to responsibly procure cage-free eggs, organic produce, sustainable sea-food, environmentally preferable disposables and more.

Local Purchasing

Transportation within the food service supply chain includes the movement of food from the location it was grown or produced to the distributor, and then from the distributor to the customer. Decisions to purchase locally sourced food yield multiple benefits, including support of local economies, reduced delivery time, cost, reduced environmental impact due to vehicle emissions for food transport, and reduced potential of food spoilage or damage during transportation.

Food Safety

Before incorporating any new vendors or suppliers into the supply chain, ensure that the company and products are fully compliant with all food safety requirements. Information must be gathered and documented across the entire supply chain, including the handling, packaging, production, preparation and storage of food. For example, food safety cannot be compromised or placed at a lower priority than procuring locally sourced goods.

Awareness of food safety practices is especially important when handling meats, seafood, eggs and produce, as these have stricter food safety guidelines than other foods. When sourcing local and organic produce from smaller farms, be sure to ask about sanitation, pest control practices and potable water testing practices.

All growers, regardless of size, should follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and manufacturers should follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

A local audit verification program for compliance with GAP and GMP for fruits and vegetables should be conducted regularly.

Consumer Disposable Products

The procurement of all support products, such as napkins and other disposable products, should be assessed for sustainable options. Polystyrene products and waxed cardboard are examples of products that should be avoided when better environmental choices are available. Examples of environmentally preferable products include, but are not limited to, those that contain recycled content (pre- and post-consumer content), and renewable materials or are compostable.

When evaluating products using post-consumer content, it is important to recognize that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict regulations that limit the use of post-consumer content in containers that carry food products.

Disposable items that are used in the food service environment but are not in direct contact with food products, such as hot beverage cup sleeves, can be made from higher quantities of post-consumer recycled fibre.

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