The Problem of Food Waste in The Dining Commons
by Dylan Grozdanich


“Food waste is a constant issue that we deal with,” says Steve, one of the managers at Ortega Dining Commons.

As many may or may not already know, the dining commons on campus waste food and while the amount of waste is not recorded, it definitely ranges from meal to meal. The dining commons are an all you can eat buffet for students that pay for meal plans. Because of this system, there will always be food wasted unfortunately. The dining commons try to limit this waste based on numbers. For example, say that on April 30th of 2007, 718 people ate at Ortega. For April 30th of 2008, Ortega would plan their meals around this number. Because of the all you can eat system, which means as long as a student is in the dining commons they can get as much food as they want, Ortega would gauge the numbers for approximately 100 more people. These numbers are actually fairly accurate and while the dining commons hopes to run out of food at around closing time, there is usually still food that gets thrown away and wasted.

The waste is not all doom and gloom though. While the system does make it so that there is always waste, the dining commons finds uses for the food and tries hard to limit the waste. Green waste is used for compost; if any food can be used in another meal such as chicken for a chicken caesar salad the dining commons will do this (The re-useable food is only rolled over for one meal for obvious sanitary reasons). During long holidays, food that is non-perishable, such as canned foods, are donated to food agencies. As a student and an employee of the dining commons, I’ve always wondered why can’t I help limit the waste? I’d love to take home extra pizza or chicken. I have a fairly empty and lonely fridge hungry for a bit of food. As many might guess, it is mostly a liability issue, which makes some sense once explained.

All the cooks at the dining commons are trained in what is known as Serve-safe. Because the dining commons can not control how many students would be versed in the knowledge of how each meal is cooked, we can not take any home. Many meals are cooked at specific temperatures with specific spices or ingredients that make it impossible to last very long (Only up to two hours for some meals). For this reason many students could blame the dining commons for when they got sick rather than their improper handling of the food. And since the dining commons cannot train every student how to handle the food, the dining commons could risk legal trouble.

These are only some of the solutions and problems that the dining commons face in trying to limit waste. “There are more solutions out there and we are always looking for them. There is an entire department (environmental health and safety) that is devoted to finding solutions,” Steve says. Waste in the dining commons is unfortunate and it will always be there, the thing is to limit it as much as possible. If the dining commons only throws away one or two entrees, they would call that a good day for limiting waste. The solutions are out there and should be found, even as a student, one may be able to research and find solutions to this problem.