13 ways kitchen staff and caterers can combat food waste in schools during COVID-19

With children now back at schools in the UK for a new term, after a long gap due to the pandemic, it is essential first to appreciate how schools are putting relevant procedures in place to keep the students and staff safe.

Welcoming students back is marred with apprehensions about COVID-19. Students and parents are both stressed about schools reopening and let us not forget about how difficult it is to implement social distancing amongst a group of people that thrives on the physical interactions.

Adding to that thought, we have created a two-part series to help school boards, kitchen staff and catering teams take the right call concerning food preparation and distribution so that students can continue consuming nutritious lunch meals, safely, during COVID-19.

Here is part one: kitchens and caterers

COVID-19 protocols

With careful planning, it is still possible to ensure the school lunchtime is an enjoyable experience for students despite repeated funding cuts at schools and the ongoing fear of having a Coronavirus outbreak! Here is what your school can do:

1. Hire an efficient contractor to deep-clean your school kitchens. They should sanitise cookers, hobs, fridges, handles, taps, light switches, storage bins and dishwashers, and ensure they are in good working order.

2. There should be proper ventilation – windows must be open at all times. If possible, use fly screens to separate the cooking stations or mark specific areas in the kitchen.

3. Keep cooking stations 2m apart whenever possible, and recommend staff work side-by-side or with backs to each other.

4. In addition to disinfectants, hand sanitisers and detergents, ensure the kitchen staff have proper cleaning materials, PPE equipment, face masks, gloves, and disposable aprons at their disposal.


5. Put up signage in the kitchen to explain new regulations on what the staff should or should not do. They must know the actions that are required of them!

6. If there is a large team of kitchen staff, implement shifts to reduce the number of people in the kitchen at a time. Preparation of food and cleaning should not take place simultaneously.

7. Consider using eco-disposable cutlery and cups for water if dishwashing is not feasible. Vegware, for example, is made from plants. It is commercially compostable and designed to be recycled with food waste.

8. Implement delivery protocols for food vendors as well. For instance, they should not be allowed to enter the kitchen areas. You must ensure delivery boxes are correctly packed, and item dates stamped.

Tips to reduce food waste in schools

1. Children are cautious of unfamiliar foods. For example, they would be reluctant to eat a new organic chicken steak if it were a different colour. The familiarity of food is paramount.

In such scenarios, it is best if students can be educated or informed about any change in the menus beforehand. That way, they can amend their food preferences and avoid unfamiliar foods from going into the bin.

2. Portion sizes need looking at. Often the portions are too big for the youngest students. Reduce the portions and if possible, only serve those food items they want to eat. Primary children, for instance, will be unusually picky when it comes to food!

3. Extend the lunch hour to enable students to complete their meals and digest it better. This is beneficial for their health in addition to helping with the wastage.

4. Adopt practices like using recycled materials in the packaging, labelling expiration dates clearly, and implementing freezing/thawing/cooking instructions to use the quantities they need without compromising the food that remains in the packet.

5. Try and level out the meal options throughout so that there is an equal amount of options for food left for students who arrive late during lunchtime.

Wrapping it up

Overall, it could be challenging to judge the exact impact on food waste in the new school term. However, that does not mean your kitchen staff and caterers do not take proper precautions to ensure the safety of students and the elimination of food waste.

You can take student surveys to understand their meal preferences, set up food committees and streamline the serving process to cut down on waste, and to give students an efficient and secure dining experience.

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