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Reducing Food Waste in an Age of Change

February 12, 2021

In the dining services of Vidant Medical Center in eastern North Carolina, the impact of operational changes due to COVID-19 were felt immediately.

“Our customer base dropped dramatically almost overnight,” says Troy Sheppard, Food & Nutrition Service Line Administrator and Client Executive with Sodexo, which provides dining operations for Vidant Health System. Increased staffing demands created further challenges, as self-serve area food lines were converted to staffed stations and heightened sanitation protocols took up more labor time. An increased focus on quick services such as “Simply to Go” changed the norm even further.

The Food & Nutrition team at Vidant rolled out Sodexo’s automated food waste tracking system, WasteWatch Powered by Leanpath, this year, refining the ability to measure their food waste, receive detailed reports on what is being wasted and why, develop plans to prevent future waste. With so many norms of operation upended, the ability to understand food waste in real time allowed the foodservice team at Vidant to see where adjustments were needed immediately.

Sodexo works in 64 countries and serves up to 100 million consumers daily. The company made history in 2019, announcing plans to be the first global foodservice organization to roll out automated food waste tracking solutions at all its sites by 2025. WasteWatch Powered by Leanpath has deployed at 732 Sodexo sites, including 188 healthcare sites in the US, nearly all since the onset of COVID. More than 1,200 Sodexo kitchens globally are currently in the program.

“Sodexo prioritizes addressing food loss and waste because, as a major player in the food value chain, it is imperative for our business and for the planet,” explains Nell Fry, Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at Sodexo. ”This is even more true during COVID with tremendous volatility in supply and demand along with an ever changing consumer landscape. The need to measure food waste has never been more clear or necessary.”

According to data from Leanpath, Sodexo’s food waste technology provider, the percentage of food wasted in kitchens typically increases as the amount of food produced decreases.

“When it comes to food waste, high production levels create a lot of buffer for kitchens,” explains Leanpath Executive Chef Robb White. “Because there is simply more food being served there are more opportunities, for instance, to repurpose overproduction. Likewise, when you’re moving through product faster, you have less opportunity to create waste through spoilage or expiration.”

Vidant comprises nine hospitals and 1,708 licensed beds offering extensive inpatient and outpatient services to more than 1.4 million people across 29 counties. Its foodservice operation covering patient dining, retail and catering produces 1.2 million meals annually. That production level had dropped as much as 46 percent at the height of COVID, now recovering several percentage points.

Because the Sodexo team at Vidant was tracking its waste, it was able to spot increased waste quickly and precisely and target its reduction effectively.

Sodexo Executive Chef Andrew Loesch runs the kitchen at Vidant’s Duplin Hospital. Through food waste tracking he and his team saw, for instance, high waste levels from expired items particularly on Mondays.

Loesch explains. “With the detail from WastWatch it’s allowing us to ensure everybody is doing a better job going through the walk-ins and coolers making sure everything is being utilized [before it expires].”

Vegetable waste ranked as the highest waste item overall. Through Leanpath’s automated goal function, the team began working on a goal to reduce vegetable waste by 10 percent. Leanpath monitored and reported on their progress. The team ultimately reduced waste from vegetables by 25 percent.

“We achieved that mainly by stressing small batch cooking and cooking to order fresh vegetables,” Loesch says. “It might mean a little more work, but when they see those waste numbers at the end of the day, it really clicks.”

Loesch continues: “We have to be good stewards of our food sources, our planet and our client’s finances. Because Vidant is so big and reaches so many people we can really positively impact all that.”

“The old adage, a penny saved is a penny earned, is real, and now more than ever in my career in the healthcare field,” adds Sheppard. “Our clients hire us to be the experts in managing the resources to be sustainable as well as saving costs. WasteWatch Powered by Leanpath aligns with that perfectly.”

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