Smart Kitchens San Diego

What would it look like to pile up all of the food waste from a commercial kitchen over the course of a week, a month, or a year? The Alliance got a glimpse into the answer to that question by analyzing the food waste stream of fifteen local sites through the Smart Kitchens San Diego (SKSD) program. Starting in 2018, the Alliance recruited institutions from various sectors—including hospitals, hotels, universities, casinos, and event centers—to start tracking all of their food waste. Chefs, dishwashers, cooks, and other kitchen staff at these sites used advanced tracking systems developed by the company Leanpath to weigh, categorize, and photograph every food item that got tossed. 

The data captured by the Leanpath trackers was invaluable. For the first time, chefs got a birds-eye-view of all food waste in their kitchens, gaining insights into what types of food were commonly wasted, for which reasons, at what times of day, and how often. By measuring the food wasted in their kitchens, chefs were able to identify strategic opportunities for addressing the root causes of food waste. At the end of the two-year program, tracking data revealed that the sites participating in SKSD reduced their food waste by 42%.

In addition to stopping food waste at the source, the SKSD program also set up food recovery relationships for each site. In partnership with the San Diego Food Bank, each institution was connected with a local food recovery organization that would pick up nutritious and delicious surplus meals from the sites and redistribute them to community members in need. Since 2018, over 170,000 meals have been rescued and distributed through Smart Kitchens San Diego partnerships.

By measuring wasted food, implementing efficient kitchen strategies, and donating excess, this collaborative project is reducing waste, helping the environment, and improving the bottom line for institutions.

Geertje Grootenhuis is the Program Director of Wasted Food Prevention at the San Diego Food System Alliance. Geertje draws upon her analytical skills, along with her passion for environmental justice, to coordinate and manage food waste reduction and recovery projects for the San Diego Food System Alliance.

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