Wasted food is a significant problem for food service establishments, especially public school cafeterias. Food can only be left out for a certain amount of time and excess is tossed. Plate waste is also an issue, as students take more than they often eat. While donating the extra to food banks seems to be one option, legal and health considerations make that infeasible.
Those at some of the nation’s largest school districts have sought to tackle the problem. Teresa Wantabe discusses the situation at Los Angeles Unified and the steps administration has taken in a Los Angeles Times article. The nation’s second-largest school system, Los Angeles Unified serves 650,000 meals a day. However, food waste is a real problem for the district.
“Students throw out at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more, according to estimates by David Binkle, the district’s food services director,” writes Wantabe. “That amounts to $18 million a year — based on a conservative estimate of 10% food waste — which Binkle says would be far better spent on higher-quality items, such as strawberries or watermelon.”
California schools are not the only districts struggling with wasted food. Forty-percent of all of the lunches served in Boston Public Schools are wasted. Moreover, it’s a problem that extends beyond schools. Nationwide, the annual cost of food waste is more than $1 billion.
While food waste is an issue that affects many service establishments, it is particularly pronounced at schools. They are also in the greatest need of solutions, as they meet new government health and nutrition regulations. New guidelines, for example, require that cafeterias serve fresh produce and fruit. Yet, this can be expensive and much of it is being wasted.
According to Cornell University and Brigham Young University’s 2013 research of 15 Utah schools, extra produce, including fruits and vegetables, costs school districts $5.4 million each day. However, $3.8 million of it is being tossed out into the trash.