In the United States, 40 percent of food made or purchased goes uneaten. That is equivalent to $165 billion each year, according to the National Resource Defense Council. That amounts to 20 pounds of food per person per month.
The Cal State Fullerton Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC), which manages campus dining, donates food from the Nutwood Café, Langsdorf Hall Express and the Titan Student Union food court to a local women’s shelter in an effort to help mitigate the growing issue of uneaten food.
Donated food can help feed many families that are less fortunate, and during the holiday season it is especially helpful.
Food donated from campus restaurants feeds about three to four families per week, said Chris Quintana, office administrator of the women’s shelter.
In April 2009, the food donation program was started through ASC to donate leftovers to a local women’s shelter. The shelter then comes to pick up food every Friday.
The amount and type of food varies from extra lettuce, tomatoes and onions for dressing hamburgers to complete, hot meals from the TSU food court. There is usually plenty of bread, which helps to feed the 50 women and children that live in the shelter.
Tony Lynch, the director of campus dining, said restaurants on campus do not typically overproduce and there are not many leftovers, but he decides where the food is distributed and what organizations will receive the donated food.
“We have something for them to eat, not just canned goods or dry food that we have here,” Quintana said. “They can take some of the stuff that they bring and heat it up.”
The quantity of food donated to the shelter is usually consistent, and occasionally, when there are catered events, the shelter receives more food.
“Each week varies on the donation,” said Crystal Wooldridge, marketing manager of campus dining for ASC.
The university does not place any restrictions on the donated food. However, there are state codes and federal regulations in place to protect the companies and organizations that donate extra food from being sued or having any liability.
The California Health and Safety Code states “any food facility may donate food to a food bank or to any other nonprofit charitable organization for distribution to persons free of charge,” but some companies in California are worried that they can still be held liable for donated food that may get someone sick.
There are gray areas in the law regarding food donation. But this usually does not deter charitable groups and organizations from donating much-needed food to food banks and women’s shelters.
Almost six million tons of food is thrown away each year in California, which would fill the Staples Center 35 times over, according to California Watch.
As technology advances, there are new methods being used to track how much food is wasted and how much food to produce each day.
Overproducing is one of the key causes that leads to leftover food, and without a method to curb it in place, it contributes to the nearly 22 million tons of food wasted in the United States each year, according to Cal Recycle.
To avoid overproduction, the Gastronome uses food production software to approximate how many students will eat at the Gastronome that day.
With food production software that can predict how much food to make, the Gastronome only throws away five to 10 pounds of food each day, said Samantha Meneses, the events coordinator of the Gastronome.
The Gastronome does not donate any of their food to shelters because they have a small amount of leftovers. However, they do repurpose some of the leftovers for the next day’s menu.
They also allow some of their staff to eat what is left over and then donate what is not suitable for human consumption to the Arboretum for composting.
“If we didn’t have such tight controls on food production and significant amounts of leftover food were available, we would look into a local hunger relief agency,” Meneses said.
Some local school districts have been working to get approval for the school cafeterias to donate the extra food after lunch has been served.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has approved a program that allows their schools to donate leftover cafeteria food to needy families. School districts that do not participate in a charitable feeding program throw all leftovers in the trash or into a garbage disposal.
Food donation programs can keep usable food out of the waste stream, reduce disposal costs and feed hungry families in the community, according to Cal Recycle.
ASC also started a program called “loose change.” The program involved students donating their leftover change, which was then donated equally among OC Food Bank, Second Harvest Food Bank and the women’s shelter in Fullerton.
From April 2009 to April 2011, the program raised over $5,800. When it ended, ASC continued the food donation program at the women’s shelter.