What a waste: the journey of uneaten food at WCU

Imagine this, you’re at the dining hall after a long day, feeling especially hungry. You load your plate with extra food, grab a salad and some ever-essential dessert. You’re halfway through your food when you realize your eyes were bigger than your stomach. You finish what you can and leave the excess on a plate that is sent to the dish room. You leave with your friends, the leftover food far from your mind. It’s just trash anyway, your leftovers couldn’t have made much of a difference, right? 

Between the dining hall in Courtyard and the dining hall in Brown, about six thousand pounds to 10 thousand pounds of food waste is produced every week. 

According to Jeffery Marshall, resident district manager of Aramark, there are two kinds of food waste, pre-consumer and post-consumer. 

Pre-consumer waste is produced predominantly by the kitchen during food preparation. Each food station is given a clear container for its waste so workers can see just how much food is being wasted. 

Occasionally those containers will be weighed, and the wasted food will be given a dollar amount so it can be understood from a business standpoint, according to Marshall. 

Post-consumer waste is created either by food served and not eaten or by food that is uneaten at the end of the day. 

At the end of a shift, the chef must determine whether food can be reworked. 

If it is determined the food can be reworked, the chef must act quickly to meet the standards of critical hazard points. This means the food must immediately be chilled and brought to the proper storing temperature until it can either be served the next day or incorporated into a future meal. 

Aramark calculates what is known as an acceptability factor when designing its menu. There is a 4-week menu that runs four times a semester. Each day workers calculate how much of each menu item was eaten and how much was leftover to determine how much should be served in the next cycle. Marhsall said workers can accurately predict correct portions that allow minimal leftovers after just one menu cycle.  

Food that cannot be reworked is stored with the pre-production food waste in large walk-in coolers. There is one cooler at Courtyard and one cooler at Brown. The food is saved to be donated to a pig farm as feed for the pigs. “We have this pig farmer that during COVID, had some really skinny pigs,” Marshall joked. 

Aramark gives back to Jackson County in more ways than one.

At the end of the semester non-perishable food is donated to local food banks including United Christian Ministry, Cornbread and Roses, Community Table and Homebase. Students are also able to contribute to donations at the end of each academic year. Those with remaining declining balance from meal plans are encouraged to shop at the Noble convenience store and place the items in a donation box. 

According to Marshall, most food waste comes from students. “If you saw the amount of… plates of food and bowls of salad untouched that gets wasted,” he said, “it has an effect.” 

To show students the effect of this waste, Aramark works with Sustainable Energy Initiative to run its Weigh the Waste program once a semester. During this time students are encouraged to dump their leftover food into containers which are weighed to show how much food is wasted. After being weighed, the food is added to a bagless trash can with the rest of that day’s waste so students can witness how much builds up. According to campus dining’s marketing manager Isabella Senatore, the voluntary program is not to shame students, but to make them aware of how much waste is produced when they don’t finish their meals. 

“Don’t be ashamed from picking the food up,” said Senatore, “just be mindful of if you do pick it up, enjoy the food, consume it and try not to throw it away.”