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Food Waste Management in Healthcare

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The intent of this page is to provide information within the larger context of food waste reduction and management that is specific to the healthcare sector.  Below you will find success stories, best practices, and high level detail about the components of hospital and nursing home food waste to help you manage food waste at your hospital.


There is a significant opportunity to make a difference with food waste by doing work in this sector. In New York State alone, we estimate there are over 220 hospitals, with over half of them generating two or more tons of food waste per week, and about 630 nursing homes,  70 of which generate at least 2 tons of food waste each week . At about 24 lb of food waste generated per week for every occupied bed, hospitals generate twice as much food waste per bed compared to nursing homes. Combined, the large hospital and nursing homes (>2 tons food waste/week) are responsible for generating over 550 tons of food waste each week. To find out more about these estimates, check out our calculator here.

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The food waste data presented below is aggregated from food waste assessments NYSP2I performed at six NYS hospitals in 2016-2017; see the full case study here.  The proportions of each waste stream varied slightly between hospitals, however the overall proportions were very similar across each of the six hospitals assessed. Through this exercise, NYSP2I also created a series of tools to assist hospitals in being able to perform their own food waste self-assessment. These tools are available for download here.


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Typical Food Waste Breakdown


Choosing the best option for food waste prevention and diversion from landfill will depend a lot on the breakdown of food waste being generated. Food waste generated in hospitals is unique in comparison to other sectors, where food retail or service is the crux of the business (e.g. grocery stores, restaurants). Because food service is catered to fit around hospital operations, the food waste streams are unique. Below are some key observations about the food waste generated at hospitals.

  • About half of the overall food waste in a hospital is from food left on patient trays.
  • It is very common for patients to return full and/or unopened drinks on their meal trays.
  • There are multiple points of food waste generation  (patient rooms, kitchens, cafeterias, coffee stands, staff break rooms, etc.), and this number typically increases the larger the hospital is.
  • Packaged food is very common for hospital cafeterias to use, making post-consumer separation of organics difficult.
  • Unlike most restaurants or grocery stores, food production and service is typically 24-7 in hospitals.

    Best Practices for Food Waste Management

    Linked at the bottom of this page, we have several of our resources that go into greater detail about source reduction and diversion no matter your business/institution type. Here we have several best practices for food waste reduction and diversion that are specific to the healthcare sector including a few external resources for further reading.

    • Source reduction
      • Implement tray-less dining in the cafeteria to encourage customers to take only what they know they will eat.
      • Cook made to order patient meals to help reduce the amount of food waste returned on patient trays.
      • Repurpose left over food from one meal service to the next when possible.
      • Utilize first-in first-out sticker systems to note which items should be used first.
      • Track (manually or electronically) preparation and overproduction wastes for a simple and inexpensive way of gaining insight into opportunities to reduce food waste.
    • Donation and diversion
      • Pilot food waste collection and diversion in the area of the hospital that generates the most food waste first (typically the main production kitchen), before rolling out to other food prep and service areas.
      • Eliminate disposable plate and silverware in the cafeteria to make it much easier for customers to source separate their food scraps before leaving the cafeteria.
    • Additional resources