Branstad: University of Iowa Hospitals could do more to reduce food waste

Biggest institutions should have least food waste, governor says

Food waits to be purchased in the Melrose Dining Room at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013
Food waits to be purchased in the Melrose Dining Room at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which wasted about 350,000 servings of food worth $181,000 in the last year, could do more to reduce food waste, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said.

"I would hope they could do better than that," Branstad told The Gazette. "The bigger the institution, the smaller percentage of waste they should have."

Branstad reacted to a Gazette report showing UI Hospitals wasted about 12 percent of food prepared for employees and visitors in seven dining areas from Dec. 1, 2011, through Nov. 30, 2012.

UI Hospitals does not regularly donate unsold food, nor does the hospital recycle food waste into compost, which is striking at a campus with a Sustainability Office that promotes the UI goal of 60 percent waste diversion by 2020.

About 40 percent of food produced in America goes uneaten, according to the National Institutes of Health. This is everything from misshapen fruit left in the orchard to meat that spoils in the refrigerator.

But in institutions like UI Hospitals, the average pre-consumer food waste is 4 percent to 10 percent, according to LeanPath, an Oregon-based company that provides automated food waste tracking for schools, hospitals, restaurants and corporations in more than 30 states.

"Even the best-run organizations in the world struggle with this," said Andrew Shakman, LeanPath president.

Branstad said the state should encourage schools and other state institutions to reduce food waste, which makes up 14 percent of Iowa landfills.

"There are programs that are available," he said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides forgivable loans to groups that want to start programs focused on recycling, composting or other ways to reduce landfill waste. The DNR and Iowa Waste Reduction Center at the University of Northern Iowa have a $162,000 year-long campaign to reduce food waste. The team will  launch a website this spring that will allow people to enter their zip code and find places that will take food waste.

Food rescues, like Iowa City's Table to Table, distribute salvageable food from restaurants, grocery stores and institutions to groups that feed hungry people.

"If you're going to donate food, certain standards need to be met," Branstad said.

Donating prepared food is legal as long as hot food is kept above 135 degrees and cold food is kept below 41 degrees, the Johnson County Public Health Department reported. Unless food has been on a buffet line, where patrons serve themselves, it is safe for up to seven days as long as it is cooled properly and reheated to 135 degrees.A 1996 federal law protects food donors from civil and criminal liability except in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.