Serving over one million hungry Spartans yearly, it's no surprise that MSU's Brody Square Dining Hall generates a ton of food, and subsequently a large amount of food waste. Amidst the endless options and the bottomless buffets, one Dining Services team set out to transform the process of food preparation, holding themselves (and the campus) more accountable for pre-consumer food waste.

Spearheaded in August 2016, the LeanPath tracking system has been used in Brody Square Dining Hall to help staff weigh, photograph and track pre-consumer food waste, or waste that is produced before it is served, in order to identify areas for improvement and report on reduction of waste. Using a scale, camera and associated tablet computer, the system helps raise awareness about processes that might be wasting excess food, allowing the dining team to adjust practices accordingly.

A preliminary success of the program arose when the dining staff noticed—through photos taken from LeanPath—significant amounts of chicken being wasted from Brimstone dining every evening. Operations were changed so the chicken was saved, cooled, cut and used on the salad bar the following day.

Anna Foster, Dining Serves Complex Manager, has played a large role in the initiative since its implementation, and noted the importance of reporting when it comes to making decisions for food production. "What gets measured, gets managed," says Foster, "the biggest benefit of this reporting was that it increased the awareness of our staff to do the right thing, instead of the easy thing. We identified a lot of food items that could be used elsewhere."

The reports generated from LeanPath ultimately led to changes in purchasing, staff training and reuse of food products. After only one academic year in operation, the program diverted over 17,800 pounds—nearly 16 percent of total waste in Brody Square—resulting in approximately $19,000 in waste-disposal and purchasing cost savings.

Foster noted challenges with changing the habits of staff, who were used to putting food waste into compost bins or the food pulper in Brody Square. "It had to come down to peer accountability," says Foster, "the most surprising thing to me was how the staff took ownership of this, especially the full time employees, who regularly reminded the nearly 400 part-time employees to weigh and track everything."

"The best example is the day the LeanPath went down before I was in office," mentions Foster, "the staff saved all of their waste, and had buckets lined up to be weighed as soon as the tracker was fixed. They were all about making sure everything was properly monitored."

The tablet associated with the LeanPath tracking system detailing the week's most wasted food.
Careful measurement and reporting on food waste through the LeanPath tracking system allowed management in Brody Square to make important sustainable changes in purchasing and reuse. Foster believes anything that can be done to handle food more responsibly is a reflection of MSU's goals. "The success of this program is a great way to show how culinary services can support the mission of the university as a whole. It speaks to the values of MSU: making smart choices, and being considerate of the world outside of our walls."

For more on culinary services sustainability initiatives, visit the Eat at State website.