The journey to eliminate food waste began back in 2003 when we started the Darden Harvest program, offering one of the best alternatives to discarding excess food – feeding people. In every one of our restaurants, we cook our unserved, surplus food and prepare it for donation to local food banks, shelters and other charitable organizations. Last year, our restaurants donated more than 11 million pounds of wholesome and ready-to-eat food, such as fresh vegetables and proteins like steak and seafood, much of which is in short supply for the people these organizations support. Darden’s Harvest donations last year were enough to feed 3,250 families of four, three meals a day for an entire year. We are very proud of the results of our Darden Harvest program and the lives and communities we’ve been able to help.
The next step is to reduce food waste we cannot donate. To help guide businesses and individuals about the preferred methods to make the most of excess food, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a “Food Recovery Hierarchy.” At the top, the most preferred food recovery method is source reduction, meaning we should all be striving to prevent food waste as much as possible. To support this, Darden uses advance forecasting systems and manages the distribution of food to our restaurants. The next preferred food recovery method is feeding hungry people, which we do through our Darden Harvest program. The third most preferred method is feeding animals, which we now are exploring with food waste recycling.
Today, in Florida, we are piloting the recycling of organic materials, primarily food waste, into animal feed. Through a partnership with Organic Matters, instead of throwing away food that remains on our guests’ plates at the end of meals or food scraps lost during production (such as meat trimmings or vegetable ends), this waste goes into designated bins for recycling. Then, every couple of days, Organic Matters picks up this excess food from our restaurants to be processed into animal feed. The end result is quality and nutritious livestock feed.
We are just underway with these organic recycling pilot programs and are learning more about the process to determine the viability of expanding organic recycling across our restaurants. What is most exciting to date is how our employees are as passionate about this recycling initiative as they are the Darden Harvest program. We know that reaching zero waste is a journey that will require time and innovation, but we’re committed to cracking the code.