Six Food Safety and Food Waste Reduction Measures for Hotel Buffets
Hotel buffets are an effective offering because they’re quick and convenient and encourage guests to choose from an extensive selection of foods. They’re also popular among hotel F&B directors interested in reducing waitstaff—especially in the morning.
But though buffets may be the serving style of choice for guests and operators, they are too often linked to food waste and foodborne illness outbreaks, the latter including norovirus, salmonella, E. coli and listeria monocytogenes.
The six measures that follow can help F&B directors and staff reduce buffet food waste and keep guests safe.
1. Serve guests from behind the buffet
Hotel guests typically choose buffets because of the variety of foods. Relying on staff members to serve food from behind the buffet still affords guests the same choices while preventing individuals from handling the food and utensils.
Hotels are like cruise ships in that hundreds or even thousands of people are confined to one large building. Highly contagious illnesses such as norovirus can spread quickly when guests eat contaminated food or touch contaminated surfaces.
Serving foods from behind the buffet helps prevent the spread of viruses and other illnesses and facilitates portion control to reduce food waste. Employees need to follow the hotel’s health policy, wash their hands frequently, and stay home when ill. Many local health departments also require food shields or “sneeze” guards on buffets to help protect food from contamination by guests.
2. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold
Foods cooked to and stored at the proper temperature taste better. And, cooking hot foods to the proper temperature (i.e. 165°F for poultry) prevents the growth of pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. Chefs and others who prepare food should always use a food thermometer to verify the internal temperature of all hot food.
Because hotels prepare most buffet selections ahead of time – and often in large quantities – foods must be stored in hot and cold boxes until they are added to the buffet. Hot food will remain safe when stored at 135°F and above, and cold food will remain safe at 41°F and cooler. Hot and cold boxes should be periodically checked to confirm they are properly functioning.
Food, of course, should also be held at the proper temperatures while offered on the buffet.
3. Serve food in smaller containers
No one wants to take the last two sausages on a breakfast buffet or the final scoops of potatoes au gratin, which is why staff members constantly replenish buffet foods. Buffets are markedly more appealing when they appear filled with appetizing choices.
Serving food in smaller containers makes it easier to maintain the food’s proper temperature so it is safe, and smaller quantities help reduce waste. Switching utensils every half hour also enhances the buffet’s appearance and encourages guests to choose the various foods offered rather than bypass certain selections because the serving spoons have become caked with food.
4. Order the food you need, and then re-order
Buffet food waste often results from over-ordering and over-preparing. Re-evaluating food needs and ordering the quantity you will use over a two- or three-day period will help keep food fresh and avoid spoilage.
Foods such as produce have a short shelf life, and cut produce can become contaminated if stored too long or held at improper temperatures. Bacteria, especially Listeria monocytogenes, have the potential to grow on ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats or foods that have already been cooked and are stored in the refrigerator. Working with a distributor who is willing to deliver food frequently helps keep food fresh and prevents waste and foodborne illness.
5. Confirm all workers are food safety-trained
As mentioned earlier, hotel employees who prepare and handle buffet food should follow the hotel’s health policy. They should also receive food safety training to help keep guests safe and reduce waste.
Many hotels host conventions and other large events and must rely on outside agencies to provide temporary help. These temporary workers should likewise receive proper food safety training in their primary language, and this training should be included as part of the agency contract.
6. Re-use, donate, and/or compost
Hotel kitchens are more sanitary anytime unserved food and food waste can be removed from the premises. Buffet waste is inevitable as food remains in containers and guests leave food on their plates.
Some foods that are stored at the proper temperature and never placed on the buffet may be served the following day. These foods may also be donated to a local food bank or other organization that feeds the hungry.
Composting is a sustainable alternative for plate waste and food remaining in buffet containers. Local companies will collect food waste – even in smaller towns – to compost and reuse for energy and/or fertilizer. Composting helps enrich the earth and keeps food waste from landfills. Cooking oil can also be recycled and refined for other uses, including fuel.
Buffets are popular but will continue to present food safety and food waste challenges for hotel operators who offer this format. Implementing the above recommendations will help ensure buffet food remains fresh, safe, and appealing for even the most discriminating guests and will keep food waste from local landfills.