Eco-tip: How Ventura County schools cut food waste
As the pandemic surged in Ventura County, classrooms closed but most school cafeterias stayed open. For several months, some cafeteria staff worked harder than usual assembling and bagging “grab-and-go” meals for kids. The nutrition fueled young minds engaged in remote learning, but it also created a lot of packaging and food waste.
When students returned to school, many cafeterias switched back to less wasteful operations in which kids are offered rather than served food.
“Kids have a choice,” said Linda Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Ojai Unified School District. “As they go past the fruits and vegetables, they can grab one or they can visit the salad bar.” Giving kids choices, rather than providing a pre-selected meal on their tray, she said, “results in both better nutrition and less food waste.”
“Share tables” are another waste reduction practice at many schools. Some kids still will not eat all the items they selected. Rather than tossing unopened milk cartons and other unwanted items in the garbage, they put them on a designated share table for other kids to take for free.
Health regulators encourage share tables “as long as done safely,” said Graciela Garcia, who manages food inspections for the Ventura County Environmental Health Division
When share tables are not sufficient to handle the volume of unopened milk cartons, cafeteria staff at some schools wash the containers and return them to the refrigerator before the milk spoils.
Although uncommon, some schools donate leftovers to food pantries or a food bank, which is allowed under state law.
Spirit of Santa Paula, which operates a homeless shelter, recently sent a refrigerated truck to a school cafeteria to pick up 64 cartons of yogurt, which were near expiration but still safe to eat.
The lessons in waste reduction at schools can be applied at home. For meals with guests or just your own family, you will generate less waste if you let everyone pick their own food and portions, rather than serving them.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 658-4312
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: How Ventura County schools cut food waste during the pandemic