Food service implements sustainable practices

To help reduce its carbon footprint, Fayetteville-Manlius School District’s Food Service Department will be incorporating more eco-friendly products and sustainable practices into its operation this school year.

To start, plastic drinking straws are currently being phased out of school cafeterias. Used once and thrown away, the straws do not biodegrade. The straws photo-degrade, which means sunlight breaks the plastic down into smaller pieces, and the fragments are often ingested by marine and land animals.

“This is one step we can take to reduce plastic pollution,” F-M Food Service Director Adam Jarosz said. “A straw is often used for just a few minutes before it’s discarded. That adds up to a lot of waste for minimal convenience.”

Also on the horizon for the district’s food service department is a shift from plastic cutlery and to-go containers, which are mostly used at the high school for its meals-on-the-go program, to biodegradable versions.

“Striking a balance between monetary costs, human health and environmental impact is essential in food service operations,” Jarosz said. “While the environmental benefits of green practices are important, the department must implement changes responsibly.”

As for school lunch menu changes, the department plans to roll out more fresh-made meals this year. Several F-M cafeteria best-sellers – including pizza, quesadillas and hamburgers – are now being produced in-house using fresh ingredients. Deli meats are being roasted on-site, too.

“Fresh is always best,” Jarosz said. “Meals don’t need to contain added sugar, sodium or unhealthy fats to be enjoyable.”

Jarosz said in-house production also gives employees more control over food waste because recipes can be adjusted to yield the amount of food needed.

F-M’s kitchens and cafeterias will continue to participate in food scrap composting – a practice that’s been in place at each of F-M’s schools for four years – by discarding unwanted and leftover food items into designated receptacles. The food waste, which is picked up from each school by Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), is naturally processed into nutrient-rich soil amendment and used to grow healthy plants within the community.

Composting helps keep food waste out of landfills, and at F-M has reduced lunchtime trash collection by nearly 90 percent.

“Small changes can make a big difference,” Jarosz said. “Wastefulness shouldn’t be normal.”