UH leftovers designated for charity
The food in Cougar Woods Dining Hall doesn’t just serve the students, but its leftovers do, too, feeding the homeless youth of Houston.
Aramark partners works with a third-party company Food Donation Connection, which matched the University with Covenant House and other charitable organizations.
“Let’s say we bake lasagna, and it never goes out onto the service line. We bake it, we cool it down; we store it in the freezer to use later. That type of thing could then be donated to a charitable organization if it turns out we, at the end of the day, never needed that,” said Geoff Herbert, resident district manager for the UH System Dining Services.
“For the purposes of making sure that there aren’t any unintended consequences, we want to donate the food, we want it to not be wasted, we want to support people who need that support, but we don’t want anyone to be put in harm’s way should the food not be handled properly.”
Food Donation Connection has set strict stipulations as to what food can be donated in order to avoid such instances. Any food that is sent out onto the food line, like pizza, cannot be donated because it has been exposed to the consumer. Likewise, produce cannot be donated.
However, these restrictions, along with Aramark’s internal process to minimize its amount of in-house waste, don’t leave the opportunity to give often to the Covenant House, leaving students desirous to find a way to make use of its pre-consumer waste.
Herbert said he was contacted by a graduate student who was interested in creating a program to convert vegetable remains into compost — something Aramark had participated in years ago when the University’s campus garden, which is now located in front of Cougar Woods, requested its pre-consumer vegetable waste to be composted. The donations were unable to be sustained.
“We’d be happy to donate vegetable scraps to that, but it has to be a sustained program, and people have to be able to come by every day to pick that stuff up because there’s an apparent amount of waste,” Herbert said.
According to the Dining Services website, the University eliminated trays in the dining halls to encourage students not to take more food than what they were going to eat, which resulted in a reduction of food waste per person by 25 to 30 percent.
Food that Aramark is unable to donate — post-consumer waste — is immediately thrown out once it comes off the food line. The dining staff members are not allowed to take home the post-consumer waste after their shift or the closing of the facility itself.
“It wouldn’t be safe for them to take it home at that point. We don’t want them to get sick,” said marketing manager of the UH System and Victoria College Amber Arguijo.
The fast food restaurants on campus, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, have their own franchise guidelines to abide by concerning what to do with remaining food. Aramark can control only the residential dining halls, like Cougar Woods, which is a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design-certified facility.
Herbert said being mindful that reducing waste is a good business practice and a good social practice supports the University’s sustainability mission of becoming a greener campus.