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How to Prepare for a Sustainable Return to Service

Time for a rethink

As the Government eases many aspects of the coronavirus lockdown, the foodservice sector has been operating in many guises across industries like education, defence, manufacturing and serving patients and staff across hospitals.

Yet, there is still a big gap in the sector, with pubs and restaurants still to reopen. It won’t be a return to ‘normality’ – service is going to look very different and now is an opportunity to rethink operations, change behaviours and return with more sustainable initiatives. Here’s a few tips on how this can be achieved:

Choose the right products

Consider how you’re going to serve and prepare food and drinks in the safest and most environmentally friendly way. Single-use plastics have proven their necessity during the coronavirus pandemic – WRAP reported that sales of packaged goods in supermarkets, particularly fruit and vegetables are significantly higher and people are understandably cautious of buying food that is unwrapped.

The reopening of foodservice outlets could see a greater demand for grab and go, but this does not have to mean an increase in the use of single-use plastics – there are more sustainable food containers available for food prepared on site. For example:

  • For hot food, avoid expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food packaging as an EU ban is coming – wherever possible choose takeaway boxes made from bagasse or paper with a water-based lining
  • For cold food, such as salad containers, deli and dessert pots, choose containers that are made in the UK from recycled plastic – they have a much lower environmental impact than new plastic and could be recycled again.

Consider reusables where people can dine in

I’d also urge businesses to look at adopting strict guidelines on personal hygiene, hand-washing and ware-washing, which could mean that it is still possible to operate with reusable crockery and cutlery for customers dining in. This can be achieved by:

  • Washing crockery, cutlery and trays in a high temperature commercial dishwasher before use
  • Limiting customer handling of items through new socially distanced display and serving methods
  • Setting up a clearly marked dedicated area for the collection of reusable items for customers to self-clear their tables
  • Providing workers with the appropriate PPE for collecting and washing items

Remove self-service items

Everything shared should be taken off the tables and anything that customers would normally help themselves to should be removed and these items made available upon request at the counter. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Wherever possible, provide wooden or reusable cutlery, for office-based workers, you could give each person their own set of cutlery to reuse at work
  • Provide salt and pepper in paper packets
  • Move bulk condiment dispensers and spread containers behind the counter. Ask workers to dispense them into paper pots for the customer and wash their hands after each use.

Consider your cups

Reusable coffee cups can be reintroduced by adopting extra hygiene measures. Branded ceramic mugs can be washed for reuse through a high temperature commercial dishwasher. Customers can also be allowed to bring in their own reusable cups as long as:

  • The customer’s cup is clean, and they can hold on to their lid
  • The barista doesn’t touch the customer’s cup directly, instead they can use a separate ceramic mug to make the drink and then pour into the customers cup
  • The customer reapplies their own lid.

Where using disposable cups, try to get recyclable polyethylene (PE) lined paper cups and arrange a separate cup recycling service, such as Simply Cups or Veolia. Recycling cups will reduce disposal costs and the amount of waste sent to landfill or incineration. Avoid buying compostable paper cups unless your waste contractor can compost them, otherwise they will end up in general waste.

Know when to use disposable gloves

Cross-contamination can still occur in the same way as with un-gloved hands and can give a false sense of security. Make sure workers know when they should and should not use gloves, but of course are following effective hand-washing techniques. This will help reduce the use of single use gloves and minimise contamination risks.

Consider your food waste

Operating a service with pre-packaged meals is a great opportunity to review portions to reduce food waste. Teams can be trained to use portion spoons or scales to keep sizes consistent. Monitor meal sizes to make sure you sell more of what you prepare, and your customers eat everything. Service is likely to fluctuate during the initial opening period so it’s also important to keep in daily contact with the client to help you cater for the number of covers expected.

Donate leftover food

Even when doing everything possible to reduce food waste, surplus food will still arise… it doesn’t need to end up in the bin. There are many surplus food organisations and local charities working tirelessly through this pandemic to feed vulnerable people. It’s important that foodservice and hospitality outlets have the processes and networks in place, so that when business reopens, they can quickly get surplus food to the people that need it the most.

Improve waste management

It is important to maintain waste collections to prevent waste from building up. Take this opportunity to review your waste management practices and also reduce costs. Here’s how:

  • Prioritise separate collection of food waste for recycling
  • Ensure recycling of plastics, metals, paper, cardboard and glass
  • Provide no-touch bins for customers and workers (if a lidded bin is required, make sure it’s operated by a foot-pedal)
  • Provide more waste bins front and back of house. This will reduce contact time with items and reduce the distance they need to travel to get to a bin
  • Replace bin bags frequently in all areas
  • Talk to your waste contractor about providing more frequent waste collections
  • Clearly communicate any changes to waste management to customers and workers.

Make menus more sustainable

This is an opportunity to make meals healthier and more sustainable, and in turn businesses could support local suppliers, wildlife and the environment. Highlighting plant-based options on the menu, to encourage consumers to eat less meat and using seasonal products sourced from within the UK wherever possible, will reduce food miles and boost local economies.

The need to focus on sustainability and to care for our environment has never been greater as we shape the future of our businesses, following a really challenging period. I would urge everyone to keep sustainability in mind, alongside safety protocols of course – this is an opportunity to create a more sustainable industry!