One of our veterinarians asked how Kansas State University handled the sudden COVID-19 disruptions in their food service operations. “Did they waste much food? Was it donated or destroyed?”
We know all too well what goes into producing high quality, safe, nutritious beef and how satisfying it is to watch customers enjoy our product. The flip side is how disappointing it is to learn that research tells us that 18% of beef is wasted after it gets to the customer. In case other cattle producers are curious about how our university handled their food inventory when the volumes suddenly decreased, I spoke with Mary Molt, the associate director of housing and dining services.
“So Mary, how much food went to waste when KSU closed the dining halls?” Her reply, “Not much.”
She went on to say, “I am proud of our staff, and the food production and service system that has been honed for so many years. Having a central food stores for both frozen and dry stores was a lifesaver. Because of our staff, system and facilities we minimized waste to very little.”
KSU Housing and Dining is not the typical college food service provider. They use standardized recipes and cook mostly from scratch. They recently expanded their dry, refrigerated and frozen warehouse to have more flexibility to purchase food in season as well as carry an inventory for emergencies. They have longstanding relationships with supply chain partners, including our own on-campus Weber and Call Halls, and all of their unit managers are registered dietitians with a strong food management backgrounds. This may seem a bit old-fashioned as others have gone to “just in time” deliveries and eliminated expensive refrigeration and freezer storage. Others build their menu around many processed foods and manufacturer-prepared meats, with less use of commodities. Often their managers are trained outside of institutional settings.
The K-State book “Food for Fifty”, published first in 1937 and still published today is a gold standard for quantity food production. You see, Mary Molt is the current author and her team knows how to rework leftovers, handle food safely, and minimize waste. They froze the fluid milk to use later in recipes such as mashed potatoes and sauces. They froze cheese, meat and bread. They immediately stopped the produce orders and worked seamlessly with John Wolf in Weber Hall to cut production. With still a few students living on campus, much of the remaining food was incorporated into recipes and served. The small amount of perishable products not able to be used was donated. There was only a small loss from products that had to be discarded.
At the Beef Cattle Institute, we enjoy a great partnership with KSU Housing and Dining as we work together to help educate other college and hospital food service buyers about modern beef production. Our common goal is to create more sustainable food systems based on science and research.
Sustainable food service? NAILED IT.