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L.A. Unified students toss out $100,000 in food a day. A new state law could donate it to food banks

L.A. Unified students toss out $100,000 in food a day. A new state law could donate it to food banks
A new law will allow schools to collect unopened food items and untouched fruit for donation to food banks. In this photo from 2014, students from Washington Preparatory High are throwing away unused milk cartons, part o... ((Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times))

So much school food goes wasted, tossed in the trash, uneaten. Each day in the Los Angeles Unified School District, students throw out at least $100,000 worth.

That works out to about 600 tons of organic waste daily, according to a 2015 study.

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The district pushed for a new law to help change that — and this week Gov. Jerry Brown signed it.

The law allows campuses to collect unopened items and untouched fruit and donate them to food banks.

Students pass up school food for a lot of reasons. At L.A. Unified, some complain that entrees lose flavor because they're cooked in a central kitchen and then reheated on campuses. Then, too, federal law makes students take food they might not want because the food trays have to meet nutritional guidelines. If the guidelines aren't met, school districts don't get reimbursed for free meals provided to students from low-income families.

The new law isn't the first to try to reduce school food waste. Another allows schools to donate food that was never served to students.

Many schools also now have set up share tables, where students can leave unopened food and untouched fruit for their hungrier classmates.

The new law allows share-table leftovers to be given to food banks.

L.A. Unified Food Service Director Joseph Vaughn called the changes "fantastic" because they remove "several barriers that have made it difficult to donate food."

On his end, Vaughn tries to cut waste by serving food that students prefer — which is why he has restored breaded chicken, a favorite. The school board also brought back flavored milk, more popular than plain milk with kids. Officials say the move is helping.

But even if students still skip the milk, it can now help nourish others. Experts have estimated that 14% of households nationwide sometimes have trouble putting food on the table.

In California, about 5.4 million residents, including 2.3 million children, face food insecurity, according to a legislative analysis of the new law, which was sponsored by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina). L.A. County's homeless population, one of the largest in the nation, is often reliant on donated food.

Twitter: @howardblume

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