According to a report on food waste from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of our food goes uneaten—more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. In a hospital setting, specific rules and regulations make it even more challenging to not waste food. According to Modern Healthcare, hospitals generate roughly three pounds of total waste per bed per day. Expired foods, overproduction, and returned patient food all contribute to food waste.University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has been successful in reducing food waste by 50% and the remaining food is now being reprocessed and fed to local Bay Area residents in need through a partnership with Copia. Based on UCSF’s successes, here are three tips for reducing hospital food waste:

1. Measure your waste
2. Adopt a room service model
3. Donate and repurpose

Tip #1:  Measure Your Waste
UCSF was very successful in reducing food waste at the UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus by 50% working with LeanPath, which helps commercial kitchens around the world prevent food waste with industry-leading food waste smart meters. LeanPath offers a system that allowed UCSF to track food waste and identify areas of overproduction. Raising awareness of what was being thrown away, making the actual costs more visible, making adjustments in purchasing, production, and menus, and training staff reduced waste all contributed to the reduction in waste.Chuck Davies, UCSF Associate Director, Operations and Culinary Innovation, explained, “We reduced our food waste by 50% by tracking it and educating staff about what they can do to reduce waste and saved over $55,000 in food costs in 2016.”

Tip #2:  Adopt a Room Service Model
Another key strategy for reducing waste at UCSF has been to adopt a room service model, which reduced food waste by about 30%. Patients order off a large, colorful menu, offering a wide variety of meals, including breakfast available all day. When a patient is hungry, they can order what they want to eat between seven in the morning and eight at night.  And the food is delivered within 45 minutes. It is a win-win. Patients are happy and generate less wasted food, and since most of the food is made from scratch, waste in the kitchen is reduced.

Tip #3:  Donate and Repurpose
According to Davies, Parnassus does what it can within hospital regulations to repurpose food, but at the end of the day, there is still some waste. A new territory for UCSF has been to donate food so it can be repurposed. The UCSF Medical Center at Parnassus recently launched a new food reprocessing program in partnership with Copia, an organization that picks up leftover food to distribute to local organizations such as Delancey Street and the Ronald McDonald House.“It is the nature of the food business to create some waste. Our new partnership with Copia allows us to redirect our food waste from our compost stream to directly feeding the hungry in our community,” said Davies. For example, UCSF recently donated a case of sliced mushrooms that were perfectly fine, but were beyond the hospital’s internal expiration date.

Copia, a for profit company, provides a professional and consistent service that does not require the space to freeze and store food. It pays its drivers above market wages, ensuring reliable service and guarantees that UCSF’s excess food is repurposed to feed the San Francisco community. In addition, the online dashboard helps UCSF track surplus trends (volume and category breakdowns) as well as the impact on the community, including people fed and organizations served.

“The important thing,” stressed Davies, “is that somebody is putting the food to good use.  Food that we can’t reuse here.”

UCSF has a daily pick-up, which range from 20 to 150 pounds. UCSF staff puts the food in disposable aluminum pans, categorizes it (i.e., fresh vegetables or cooked meat), and then puts a scan code sticker on it.  The food is scanned using a smart phone and then the driver comes at three o’clock everyday to pick up what’s been panned and scanned. Copia’s Food Heroes (certified food handlers) recover the surplus food and safely deliver it to local nonprofits in need. The monthly reports help UCSF track surplus trends, make better buying decisions, and receive photos and testimonials from the people fed by the UCSF food.

Cost for events is $0.25/head with a minimum of 25 participants; for a 200-person event the fee would be $50. If you are interested in using the service, create an account on and schedule your pickup. A Food Hero will be there in a couple of hours, or you can schedule ahead of time so you don’t have to think about it on the day of your event.

Economic and Environmental Benefits
These best practices can reduce food purchasing by 2-6%. In addition to the cost benefits, reducing food waste also delivers an environmental benefit. UCSF started the Copia program in February 2017. According to the latest monthly report, as of 4/29 over 10,000 pounds of healthy food have been recovered and 9,073 meals provided to local non-profits and saving 3,970,962 gallons of water.

The water saved represents the water that was used (on average) to produce and process the food recovered. Water is an integral part of food production—it is needed to grow crops, raise livestock, and process the food. According to Copia, we use an average of 365 gallons of water embedded in a pound of food, with beef requiring 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. This translates into wasting 10.5 trillion gallons of water annually from food waste alone.

Learn More
Food waste is the World’s Dumbest Problem
LeanPath Resources
Why Food Waste Means Water Waste

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