Reduce waste with proper ordering, storage

peppers jars

While it only serves 200 students and staff daily, the Muse School in Calabasas, Calif., has a need for fresh produce that’s much larger than the typical K-12 school. The private institution serves entirely vegan fare, menuing 1,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables per week.

“Despite the large amount of produce we use, the great majority is consumed, and there’s little spoilage,” says Kayla Webb, executive chef. “We barely throw away any produce.”

The Muse School has strict policies in place—outside food is banned, for example, to cut down on waste. But even if an operation can’t maintain such a level of control, proper planning and storage can make a big difference in the amount of produce that ends up in the trash.

On-site gardens have become standard at many facilities, and their harvests usually complement the operation’s produce needs. At the Muse School, the kitchen regularly prepares its vegan menu with produce from its campus garden, replacing around 30 percent of the greens needed. However, like many similar gardens, it runs into the problem of large harvests while school is out. “We’re going to try canning or blanching some of the summer produce and come up with ways to use it in the fall,” says Webb. 

Thinking small has been the key for Terry Nahavandi, resident district manager for Compass, who helped open a new dining facility at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte last year that shifted the university away from the large centralized kitchen model. “The core of what we do is in small stations, where the items are cooked in small batches or made to order,” he says. “Doing that reduces the need for massive ordering far in advance of perishables, which helps us cut down on waste.”

Keeping ordering to just a few days out from usage has been a successful model at UNCC. “Our menu planning works best when we’re keeping our orders smaller, and not receiving large amounts of perishables,” Nahavandi says. His department orders about 15,000 pounds of produce weekly, with a focus on seasonal goods to ensure quality.

At the University of California, Irvine, chefs start the day with their menu management system, planning well in advance to gauge the quantities of perishables, including produce, to order. “We’re able to adjust fairly well how much to get based on traffic and tastes of our students,” says Tyson Monagle, Aramark marketing coordinator of dining for the school.

The UCI kitchens also plan menus to make use of produce in multiple dishes. “If there’s a part of the produce that’s for one menu item, we’ll see if another part can be used for something else,” says Monagle. “That way our waste is cut to the absolute minimum.” 

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