Catering leftovers put to good use in new Ram Food Recovery program

Ever wonder what happens to all of that leftover food after a campus event catered by Housing & Dining Services?

Until recently, it had to be composted or thrown away.

Photos by Mitzi South

Rams Against Hunger and various campus partners have launched “Ram Food Recovery,” a program that benefits CSU community members experiencing food insecurity, while also reducing waste. Now, when there is a significant amount of food left over after a catered event, those who have signed up to receive Ram Food Recovery texts will be notified when and where the leftovers can be picked up. To ensure food safety and allow catering staff to break down events in a timely fashion, the pick-up period is limited to 30 minutes following an event.

About 500 people signed up to receive the texts the first day it was publicized, according to Jen Johnson, assistant director for community engagement at SLiCE (Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement). She emailed nearly 4,000 people about the new program, focusing on Rams Against Hunger meal-swipe applicants as well as those who have visited the mobile food pantry on campus.

Strong first turnout

The first day that the new system was used, at a Feb. 13 event in the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center, about 16 people showed up afterwards and collected leftover bagels, pastries and fruit from a continental breakfast catered by Housing & Dining Services.

Fruit“I’m pumped about it, because it’s a win-win,” Johnson said. “Throwing food away doesn’t make any sense. This seems like a good opportunity to live our values as an institution — reducing waste and helping people who are experiencing food insecurity.”

Mitzi South, catering and conference manager for Catering by Housing & Dining Services, explains that those who sign up for the text alert system must acknowledge a waiver and food safety guidelines with a signed electronic agreement. Food temperatures are closely monitored, South said, and participants bring their own containers for the leftover food.

South said those who collected food Feb. 13 were very careful not to take too much, and she encouraged the final few people to take more.

“They were really aware that others were coming, and they didn’t want to overindulge,” she said. “It was very sweet.”

According to South, it’s not unusual to have about half of a catering spread left over at the end of an event.

“It’s shocking for some people when they first start working here,” she said. “They ask, ‘What’s going to happen to all of this food?’”

DonutsFood insecurity prevalence

National studies show that between 15 percent and 40 percent of the U.S. population experiences food insecurity, Johnson said. At CSU, a survey conducted about five years ago showed that number at between 10 percent and 15 percent of all faculty, staff and students, she explained, but a survey by the Associated Students of Colorado State University last year indicated that about 30 percent of the student body has experienced food insecurity.

South said she hopes that the Ram Food Recovery program is extended into the summer, since the campus hosts so many conferences and meetings then. And while only Housing & Dining Services is currently participating in Ram Food Recovery, she and Johnson are hopeful that if the pilot this semester is successful, the program will grow.

“The Associated Students of Colorado State University, Eco Leaders and the Zero Waste Team advocated for the creation of the Ram Food Recovery program,” said Tonie Miyamoto, director of communications and sustainability for Housing & Dining Services. “I am so thankful that campus partners in SLiCE, Environmental Health Services, our catering team and our web team were so passionate about coming together and working to bring this idea to life. Supporting members of our campus community who are experiencing food insecurity while reducing waste at the same time is a wonderful outcome.”

To sign up, or for more information, visit