UMass to implement several strategies to break wasting food habits

By Brittney Figueira

MCT
MCT

With buffet style dining, it is hard not to waste food on a college campus.

And while food waste may be inevitable, the University of Massachusetts has implemented several strategies to break their monthly streak of wasting 30,000 pounds of food.

UMass is home to the second largest campus dining operations in the country where 40,000 meals are produced daily, according to the National Association of College & University Food Services. This means about 1.2 million meals are produced monthly and over 13 million meals are produced within one year.

In total food production, 30,000 pounds go to waste each month, which Executive director of UMass’ auxiliary enterprises, Ken Toong said is too much.

About five years ago, Toong and his staff came up with plans to prevent food being wasted in the dining commons [DCs]. The first approach to the problem was to eliminate the use of trays.

“Without a tray you can reduce average food waste by 30 percent and 25 percent in beverage waste,” Toong said. “What would happen is you used to have six glasses a meal by putting them on your tray but now it’s only one or two because your hand cannot take any more.”

According to Toong, the average amount of waste per visit to a college dining common is about six ounces per student across the nation.

“Now that we are tray-less, we reduced this by one ounce less, bringing that average down to four and a half or five ounces per visit to the DCs,” said Toong.

Following the removal of trays, dining services began promoting the idea of “smaller plates, bigger flavor.” This idea encourages students to take smaller portions because they will always be able to go back for more.

An example of  these smaller portion sizes are the pre-plated desserts. Instead of putting out an entire chocolate cake for students to take five or six slices, many of the desserts are displayed on single plates.

Toong encourages his students to eat as much as they want, but not to waste. With smaller portions, students don’t dump half full plates into dish return areas. Dining Services calls this, “post-consumer waste,” according to the director of residential dining, Garett DiStefano.

To prevent students from throwing away large quantities of unwanted food, dining services uprooted a new system called, “Lean Path.”

“Before anyone throws anything away in a dining common we actually weigh that product and we record it.” DiStefano said.

This strategy is to help staff members make note of particular trends for two purposes.

“First is to say, well maybe the product isn’t great, maybe there’s something we might want to look at. Other things are, maybe from over production, maybe we’re just making too much, and we need to scale back,” said DiStefano. “And that allows my managers potentially to catch these problems before they become big issues.”

To prevent over production, UMass’ Dining Services developed a system called, “Just in Time,” which helps them decide when to cook their food, and how much of it. This system is programmed by an electronic database called Food Pro. Food Pro allows the DCs to register the amount of student traffic every 15 minutes of that day in comparison to the same day last year.

“We project how many students come in per day and how many entrees we should produce. But that number is never accurate, sometimes there’s a basketball game, and the people come later,” says Toong. “So that is important to us and now we have an electronic system to help us with production, [it] also helps us make the food fresher.”

By watching what the popularity of meals and daily traffic flow, the kitchen staff can detect an appropriate timing of when to make their next platter of food. This way, the university is still mass-producing its food, but in a more time efficient way so that they are not cooking everything at once.

Despite Dining Services’ extensive efforts, it still seems like nothing can ever be enough to completely put an end to wasted food at college.

“In food service, waste is always a battle that everyone’s fighting, it happens,” DiStefano says. “But if you’re making stuff and throwing it away, that’s a big problem. We try to stop that.”

Brittney Figueira can be reached at [email protected].