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COVID-19 restrictions help IU Dining to limit food waste


Tables create a zigzag pattern Sept. 3 in the North Dining Room of the Woodland Eatery. Izzy Myszak

Dining halls across campus have cut both seating and menu options during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing IU Dining to cut down on food waste, said Rahul Shrivastav, executive director of IU Dining.

“We cannot afford to deplete those resources in our hands,” Shrivastav said.

During the pandemic, IU Dining has provided both pre-prepared and made-to-order meals to students through the Grubhub app in order to keep dining halls from becoming crowded.

Due to this new system, food waste has slightly decreased because meals are being prepared for individual orders instead of large crowds of students where a surplus of meals could occur, Shrivastav said.

Chefs also make effective use of what ingredients they have, ensuring none are wasted, Shrivastav said.

“We use every part, stem to root,” Shrivastav said.

Food orders are cancelled if they aren't picked up after about an hour, Shrivastav said.

After that time, pre-packaged food items, such as chips or drinks, will be resold and hot meals are thrown away, said Olivia Meeker, a student supervisor at Woodland Eatery.

However, very few meals are wasted. While factors such as post-consumer food waste are outside of IU’s control, IU Dining has kept pre-consumer food waste low. 

Meeker has worked four night shifts every week, and she said on bad nights only five or six meals are tossed. On good nights, no food is thrown away, Meeker said.

IU Dining communicates with its food vendors almost every week, sharing reports so the vendors can stock up in their warehouses, Shrivastav said.

“We share our reports with them, like how many people are dining and what they’re dining,” Shrivastav said.

IU Dining also saves parts of unclaimed meals that can be reused. Items such as chicken can be re-used as ingredients in other dishes if possible, Meeker said.

However, post-consumer food waste, uneaten parts of meals that are thrown away, is still the largest source of waste, Shrivastav said.

Freshman Trinity Vaughan said she tries to not contribute to student food waste.

“We try to eat as much as we can, and then if there’s some stuff like lettuce, some stuff we can’t really eat by itself, we throw that out,” Vaughan said.

IU has not seen a change in post-consumer food waste because the food is not being eaten in dining halls and is harder to track, Shrivastav said.

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