Montana State University

Food waste reduced in MSU’s renovated Miller Dining Hall, study finds

December 21, 2015 -- MSU News Service

The newly remodeled Miller Dining Hall was recently recognized for its structural systems with a top project award by the Montana chapter of the America Council of Engineering Companies. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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A team of Montana State University faculty members, students and staff have found that changes to the university’s recently renovated Miller Dining Hall have reduced food waste by more than 50 percent and improved campus sustainability.

Those changes include using smaller serving utensils, serving smaller portion sizes, using smaller pans of food on the buffet and creating signs that state the amount of food that is wasted, according to Carmen Byker Shanks and Selena Ahmed, assistant professors in the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development’s Department of Health and Human Development, who facilitated the study along with Alicia Leitch, a graduate student in health and human development.

“The study findings suggest that small or large modifications in the food environment can change what and how much consumers eat and waste,” said Byker Shanks.

As part of the study, researchers collected data about food wasted on consumers’ plates, during food preparation and after meal service in Miller Dining Hall. The researchers measured all food waste – or any food that was discarded – by weight. They also assessed consumer food waste by evaluating the types of food wasted, as well as how much food was wasted.

The team found that before Miller Dining Hall’s renovation, food waste collected in Miller over a period of three days totaled 5,132 pounds; after the renovation, food waste collected during the same period of time had fallen to 2,707 pounds. The team also strategized ways to reduce food waste in the hall, such as switching from a buffet service style to a cook to serve service style, creating more space between food stations, using smaller plates and serving utensils and increasing aesthetics.

“About 30 percent of all food in the United States is wasted,” said Leitch. “The United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Environmental Protection Agency recently partnered to reduce the amount of food wasted in America by 50 percent by 2030. It is exciting that University Food Services is meeting that challenge now.”

In addition to Byker Shanks, Ahmed and Leitch, students and staff from MSU’s Department of Health and Human Development, Food and Health Lab, Sustainable Food Systems program, University Food Services, Office of Sustainability, Facilities Services, MSU Extension, Campus Sustainability Advisory Council and Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems and Food and Nutrition courses helped with the study.

“We are very proud to be involved in MSU’s sustainability efforts,” said University Food Services Executive Chef Martin Lewis. “You know it’s successful when you can modernize the style of service, significantly improve quality of food, reduce waste, extend the life of the facility and provide research opportunities all with one project. We’re doing something right.”

Michael Kosevich, University Food Services dining hall manager, added that it is exciting to see that as the university has increased the amount of food options, the amount of waste has simultaneously decreased.

Ahmed noted that as part of the same study, the team is also examining the feasibility of MSU creating a composting system, which includes testing the quality of this compost. She noted that in January, staff members in Miller Dining Hall began composting food preparation waste, hoping to create a rich, organic soil addition to be used for campus landscaping. In August, that compost was tested and scored as a high-quality, safe finished product, according to Tommy Bass of MSU Extension.  The quality of the compost was further tested and found to positively impact crop yields and quality, Ahmed added.

MSU Facilities Director E.J. Hook said that the changes in Miller Dining Hall are a great example of sustainable practices in action.

“The project has demonstrated that collaboration and cooperation are critical in effecting real change,” Hook said. “Most importantly, it shows that together, small changes reap big rewards.”

For more information on the study, contact Byker Shanks at (406) 994-1952 or    

Contact: Carmen Byker Shanks, College of Education, Health and Human Development, (406) 994-1952 or