Solving two problems at once: University’s new meal recovery program is off to a strong start | Food Service Director

Last semester, the dining team at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay posed the question: How do we reduce food insecurity and food waste at the same time?

Combating food waste has long been a priority for the dining program, said Kylie Heisz, marketing coordinator at UW-Green Bay for Chartwells Higher Education, which runs foodservice at the school. However, adding food insecurity into the mix made things a bit more complex.

“Introducing food insecurity into the equation was a challenge, but it was something we were looking forward to doing,” she said.

UW-Green Bay has a buffet-style marketplace where food is monitored and replenished throughout the day. So the team came up with the idea for a meal recovery program that would reduce the amount of food leftover at the dining hall, which launched this semester.

For the program, leftover food is taken at the end of the night and packaged in dishwasher- and microwave-safe containers. Meals are then flash frozen and labeled with reheating instructions as well as the date they were placed in the freezer, according to a statement.

The meals are available to all UW-Green Bay students to at no cost. “It’s kind of just a take what you need when you need it,” Heisz said.

Chartwells staff monitor the fridge daily, and frozen meals are removed after five days. At that point, most of the meals are still safe to eat, though the university chooses not to serve them for quality purposes, Heisz says. To again avoid waste, those meals are then donated to a local safe house, an idea generated by the foodservice staff.

“So, it’s another way for us to provide to the town’s community and not only the university,” Heisz said.

The university has several other food waste initiatives in place. Chartwells Higher Ed uses a platform called Waste Not to track food waste in the kitchen. In addition, leftover food at UW-Green Bay gets pulped and turned into soil.

Even with those strategies in place, the team noticed that a lot of food was going uneaten. The new program helps address this, and according to Heisz, feedback from both students and employees has been positive so far.

“Our staff really enjoys doing this. It makes them really happy when they can interact with the students,” she said. “So, them being able to package these meals and provide something else as an alternative for them is really exciting because it’s another way they can provide for our campus community.”

To increase participation in the program, the team partnered with the Campus Cupboard, a food pantry that provides nonperishable items to students, to spread the word.

“That’s when participation started to pick up. We see it kind of fluctuating based on what the meals are that day, what day of the week it is. But we do normally see all of our meals taken out before they expire,” she said.

Going forward, the team plans to rely on student feedback to figure out how to adjust and expand the program. Heisz said there is talk of relocating the fridge to a more accessible place, for example.

“We want to cater to the students’ needs, so the goal for that will always be aligned with what the students are telling us,” she said.

Source: Solving 2 problems at once: University’s new meal recovery program is off to a strong start

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