Inside ATK

How We Combat Food Waste in the Test Kitchen

We take food seriously and that includes finding ways to avoid wasting it.

Published Mar. 23, 2023.

At America’s Test Kitchen, we test recipes dozens of times to ensure what we provide is consistent and accurate. You can be sure we use these recipes at home too.

But with 50 test cooks and product reviewers cooking, tasting, and testing all day long, how do we make sure that we waste as little as possible of that food?

We get that question a lot! The answer is that we’ve implemented several steps in our daily work to combat food waste. Here’s a list of the big ones, many of which you can employ at home.

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1. Office-Wide Composting

We’ve been composting in the test kitchen since January of 2019. Currently, we work with Agri-Cycle, a Maine-based food-waste collection service that breaks down the organic matter with enzymes and converts it into renewable energy. The by-products of this process are used for fertilizer and animal bedding at their partner dairy farm. (See an illustration of the full, fascinating cycle.)

In addition to all of the scraps, bones, and shells we compost instead of trash, we’re allowed “dirty” compost, which includes paper refuse like napkins and paper towels. All of the containers our test cooks use for mise en place, as well as the plates and cups we use for tastings, also go into the compost.

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2. The Ever-Popular Take-Home Fridge

What happens to the results of the dozens of versions we make of a recipe when it’s in development? We eat them, of course. Leftover food and ingredients that can’t be repurposed get labeled and placed in the take-home fridge, freezer, and pantry located around the corner from the general kitchen, where most recipe development takes place. Employees stop by over the course of the day and empty it out. It’s a unique perk that also combats food waste.

3. Using Spent Oil for Biofuel

If you fry foods with any frequency, you know how much of a hassle oil disposal can be. When our test cooks are finished with non-animal fats, we have a drum where it can be deposited. The drum is picked up by Lifecycle Renewables to use for biofuel.

4. Establishing a Recirculation Program for Unused Ingredients

Cooks order a lot of ingredients for recipe testing. Anything that isn’t used for its original purpose enters our recirculation program, which helps keep track of what we have so that test cooks can shop the test kitchen’s shelves before placing an order from an outside grocery store.

Any items that come into the recirc program that are unopened and would never be used are donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

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5. Practicing FIFO and Smart Storage

Our Kitchen Operations team—the five behind-the-scenes people who keep the test kitchen stocked and running smoothly—keeps a close eye on all of our ingredients. They know a thing or two about how to keep food fresh for as long as possible. 

Here are some of the ways they do this in the test kitchen that you can also do at home:

  • Practice FIFO (first in, first out) by placing older items at the front of your pantry and fridge so that you use them first. Be mindful of expiration dates and the rest will take care of itself.
  • Store everything in tightly sealed containers to aid longevity. Any unused proteins from recipe testing or overordering are vacuum-sealed and frozen.
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The most popular ingredients that aren’t exactly recipe-specific are kept on hand at all times and stored to make sure they last.

  • Nuts, excess butter, loaves of sandwich bread, and whole-wheat and other specialty flours are frozen.
  • Yeast is refrigerated.
  • Herbs are rolled in damp paper towels to help them stay fresher longer.

We test with home cooks like you in mind. We buy retail-size items if the larger, wholesale-size items may not be used before they expire. Always consider the amount of an ingredient and its longevity. What may seem like a better deal now can go to waste if left unused.

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