Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Leftover Love — Innovative Program Fighting Hunger in Children

Leftover Love — Innovative Program Fighting Hunger in Children

Have you heard about the school district in Indiana who has taken a loving approach to feeding hungry kids in their neighborhoods?

The school district has partnered with a nonprofit organization called Cultivate. This organization takes leftover food from school foodservice, either food never served or leftover items, and repackages them into nutritious meals for students.

The leftovers are re-purposed into balanced meals, frozen, and distributed to students for the weekend when healthy meals may be inaccessible and the children might otherwise go hungry.

Cultivate also receives food from caterers and other large food service businesses, such as sports concessions, that have foods which may have been cooked but never served. These businesses, like school foodservice, often over cook the amount of food they may need.

Finally, this food is being put to good — make that GREAT — use instead of going to waste!

But what might be inherent food safety dangers to overcome?

Serving leftovers with loving care so they don’t cause illness is something we all need to do.

Detective Foodsafe® tells us how this process keeps kids safe as well as tips for us to serve our leftovers with love.

Take Home School Meals

Did you know that 1 in 5 children in the United States is food insecure? That means that they do not have nutritious foods that are accessible to them.

Many students are able to eat breakfast and lunch at school but they may not have dinner or eat meals on the weekends. They are also at risk for hunger during school holidays and summer break.

Most people — including parents, educators, advocates for childhood health and Detective Foodsafe — think feeding hungry children with food that might otherwise go to waste is one of the best ideas we have heard.

We are confident that this idea will spread to other states and school districts and nonprofits who can help bring the idea to fruition to feed hungry kids.

But how does this work so that one good idea doesn’t lead to food poisoning?

In this program, kids are given frozen prepared meals using ‘leftovers’ or food that has been rescued. (See above photo from Cultivate). The nutritious meals that were re-purposed are given out on Friday in a frozen form.

They are placed in special insulated backpacks to carry home. Each meal has a label stating what each frozen tray of food contains such as carrots, collard greens, etc. They have a date and instructions for proper reheating in the microwave.

Food is prepared in a commercial kitchen with food safety practices such as clean surfaces, hairnets, and gloves. The food is frozen and held at the proper temperature until it is distributed.

Food Rescue

Reducing food waste and feeding people who are food insecure is the goal of food rescue. Since 40% of the food in America goes to waste, this is a great solution to move food to people who need it.

Through the process of food rescue, Cultivate gathers foods that would be otherwise unused. They save this food from waste by re-purposing it for food banks, students in need and other places where people are food insecure.

Let’s be clear, however. Detective Foodsafe wants everyone to know that this food rescue only uses food untouched by the public. The food has been prepared but is unserved.

Foods can be those that are not only cooked in quantities in excess of what was needed such as happens with catering but also perhaps was food that was ordered and now is not needed. This over-prepared or over-ordered food may go to waste if it is not rescued.

No expired or spoiled food or any that would be considered garbage is used in a food rescue.

Tips for Safely Using Leftovers

Detective Foodsafe wants to share some tips when handling leftovers and re-purposing food so that you can avoid food waste and make the most of the food you have leftover.

Pretty much any food can be frozen, but be aware that as foods stay frozen they lose some of their moisture and quality. Freezing does halt the growth of most microorganisms.

  1. Plan your meals and the portion sizes needed to avoid over-preparing food in your home. This is an easy way to reduce food waste.
  2. If you find yourself with leftovers, refrigerate them promptly after serving, allowing no more than 2 hours without refrigeration.
  3. Store leftovers in small containers that allow them to cool quickly.
  4. Discard any foods that have hit the temperature danger zone, since this is where bacteria flourish.
  5. Make a plan to incorporate leftovers into other dishes, including soups, stews, casseroles or stir fry meals later in the week.
  6. If you won’t use your leftovers within a few days, store them in airtight containers properly labeled and dated in your freezer.
  7. Always cook leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to destroy any bacteria lurking from its preparation (freezing doesn’t kill bacteria but stops its growth).
  8. When thawing any frozen food, plan to thaw it under refrigeration or in the microwave so you don’t encourage pathogen growth by thawing food on the counter. 
  9. If you are transporting frozen foods, be sure to carry them on ice or in insulated containers to keep them as cold as possible until they can be safely stored.
  10. Use this handy guide to know how long to store frozen foods. 

Remember, the first line of defense against food poisoning is frequent hand washing. Always wash your hands before preparing any meals, including leftovers.


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