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Study: Coe and Other Schools Reduce Food Waste

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa The simple effort of monitoring and weighing food waste generated during meal production cut that kitchen waste by about one third at Coe College and seven other campuses served by the same dining contractor, according to a recent study.

The eight campuses across the country all work with the company Sodexo, which operates Coe's dining service under contract.

In the first eight weeks of the pilot study, launched in September and aimed at reducing pre-consumer food waste in those dining halls, a more than 30 percent reduction was noted, officials said. The study didn't look at what the customer throws out, but rather the food that was wasted during preparation of the meals. Dining hall employees entered data about what they were throwing out and why, and they weighed the waste.

It helped the dining hall workers focus on overproduction of food, spoilage and food expiration, Tom Wieseler, director of Coe's dining services, said. Some of the waste is unavoidable raw material, such as rinds from watermelon or cantaloupe, he said, but the act of tracking the waste is helpful.

A lot of food options at Coe's dining hall are made-to-order, such as burgers. But the effort to reduce waste has made a bigger impact on items made in bulk, like casseroles or sloppy joes.

"I think we're doing a pretty good job," Wieseler said. "It's just people paying more attention to things. I know we're making less and watching it closer."

And while this particular effort focuses on pre-consumer food waste, Coe also has worked to reduce waste on the consumption end of the equation, Wieseler said.

Coe last year eliminated trays in the dining hall, a move that reduced food waste by 285 pounds per week, Wieseler said.

The college also has a campus garden, used in the summer to grow some of the food for the dining hall. Also, a new energy-saving oven was purchased last spring, Wieseler said.

"We've done a lot of the low-hanging fruit. This was kind of the next step," he said. "We try to be as green a department as possible."

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