Technology is Helping to Reduce Food Waste at UPMC

By: Cristina MestreCristina Mestre

Thanks to an innovative computerized food management system, hospital systems across the U.S. are seeing a large decrease in food waste.
Here in western Pennsylvania, UPMC Passavant, UPMC Hamot and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC are using the Sodexo corporation’s food management system to save not just food, but dollars, too.
The computer-based system allows you to enter food waste data and portion numbers into an electronic database, and to adjust those numbers based on how many customers are coming through and purchasing food, says Brandon Stapleton, operations manager of food and transport services at UPMC Passavant.
While forecasting menus is not new, the program allows you to calculate your specific food needs based on how many customers you have, he notes.  Plus, it is much more user-friendly than other forecasting methods and can track trends and monthly reports, thereby letting you see patterns in your food usage. 
The key to the system is forecasting your menu in a five-week cycle.  So, if you had turkey five weeks ago and prepared 200 portions but only sold 150, you’d have 50 left. By entering this information into the system, purchasing needs will be adjusted to make fewer portions the next time. 
“One of the biggest parts of the program is getting the staff involved in looking at food and waste versus leftovers. It’s key to understand the difference,” Stapleton notes. “What was prepared does not equal what was wasted – leftovers can be used in safe and nutritious ways.”
“Staff buy-in is key, too. Food waste is tracked manually but then entered electronically, so you have to put in the time and enter the data,” adds Stapleton.
Although cost-savings calculations are still in the works, UPMC Passavant has tracked food savings over the 5-week menu cycle. The percentage of waste reduced ranged from 22 to 32 percent during that time.
Other food waste reduction efforts are happening at Magee-Womens Hospital, in the on-site organic vegetable and herb garden. The produce grown there is utilized in healthy menu options in the cafeteria, café, and patient meals. This year the Magee garden has to date has yielded 1,318 lbs of produce and herbs, thereby $3,366 in food purchasing costs.