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

The first step was to examine the forecasting methods, as it was apparent from the report that the department was overproducing food. The team started by looking at the rather extensive menu for the system’s seven retail dining facilities and winnowing it of underperforming items. That resulted in a 5% reduction in the total number of items on the menu.

“Then we fine-tuned our menu forecasting,” Dolezal says. “We never want to run out of food, but it was obvious that we were overproducing. By tweaking those numbers, we’re also saving money, since the dollar amount of the food we were wasting has been cut by 40%.”

The Styrofoam issue was a huge one, she admits. “We serve over 10,000 meals a day,” she says. “We’re are open 24/7. That’s a lot of carry out. Our biggest challenge was finding enough biodegradable products that would suit our needs. Fortunately, we were able to find a company that could provide what we needed.”

Dolezal adds that she also revived a reusable mug program to try to cut the amount of disposable cups being used.

The disposable items, along with post-consumer food waste, go into pulpers to be converted to compostable form. The hospital’s hauling company picks up the pulped waste three times a week, something that is costing the department about $38,000 a year.

“One of our challenges is that we have an old central kitchen, which hasn’t been renovated since 1986,” Dolezal explains. “Our storage space is very limited and, as you know, that food waste can start to generate an odor.”

The solution, which she says will be implemented in the next couple of months, will be to build a platform adjacent to the loading docks and install a refrigerator to house the waste. Once that is done, Dolezal will be able to reduce the pickups to once a week.

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