University of Iowa Hospitals tackle waste issue

The foodservice department has reduced food waste, increased food donations and implemented a composting program.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

When a media report slamming the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for the amount of pre-consumer food waste it generates came out in late 2012, Food and Nutrition Services Director Joan Dolezal knew she couldn’t ignore it. In response, Dolezal and her department not only attacked the problem, they also went beyond the complaints in the report to address other waste issues such as polystyrene usage.

The results have been impressive. In a little more than a year, Dolezal says, the department has reduced the amount of pre-consumer waste generated by nearly half, to about 7%. The 2012 report cited the healthcare system for wasting about 12% of the food it prepares for retail sales. Waste on the patient food side was not measured in the report.

In addition, the department has done away with polystyrene packaging in favor of biodegradable items, all of which can be composted. Dolezal also began a composting program that in one year has diverted 77 tons of waste from the landfill.

Finally, the department worked with the dining services department at the University of Iowa to partner with Table To Table, a local organization that distributes food to food banks and crisis centers. That effort has resulted in a threefold increase in the amount of food donated from the healthcare system—more than 2,300 pounds of food in 2013.

“The report really made us stop and take a look at our procedures,” Dolezal says. “We created a focused initiative to reduce our waste. We put together a team within our department and also worked with the university’s sustainability office to come up with a plan.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

FSD Resources