An app to help you fight hunger, reduce food waste

An+app+to+help+you+fight+hunger%2C+reduce+food+waste

By Kayla Martinez, Staff writer

Every year, about 25 million tons of food is wasted at the retail level, according to ReFED. 

A new way to fight hunger is being made possible by two University students. They figured out a way to reduce food waste with the tap of a button.

Sohinee Oswal, senior in ACES, partnered with Kathleen Hu, senior in Engineering, to create an online platform called Dibbs. The program brings together food retailers and food agencies, such as soup kitchens and food pantries, to bring excess restaurant food to those in need.

“It’s kind of a play on words, so it’s like calling ‘dibs’ on food,” Oswal said.

The app allows food agencies to coordinate with grocery stores to organize food donation. The store can enter in their donation food inventory, a pick-up time and location; the agencies can then call “dibs.”

At the end of each day, grocery stores have “shrink,” items that are nearing expiration, dented, bruised or a product that did not sell well. Using Dibbs, these items would no longer get thrown away but instead uploaded onto the platform where food agencies can then see item availability.

The agencies must be “Safe Serve Certified,” meaning they are required to obtain a certification that allows their employees to handle food to the standards of specific criteria.

Though the app is in the process of development, Oswal and her co-founder, Hu, have run pilots throughout the summer, partnering with Fresh International Market in Champaign and Common Ground Food Co-Op in Urbana.

“We’ve provided the same functionality manually, so that has been working really well,” Sohinee said. “For Common Ground Co-Op, we were able to help divert over 500 pounds of food in our two-week pilot from entering a landfill, and instead, it’s feeding people.”

At Common Ground, they worked out with Oswal and Hu the process to log food which either goes to compost or to employees, given that they are a zero waste market.

“It’s really nice for us to be working with organizations that share our values and to have their eyes on something as great as reducing food waste,” Sam Ihm, Common Ground promotions coordinator, said.

A common problem the duo found in their test-runs was miscommunication between food retailers and agencies. With Common Ground, Hu and Oswal began helping them track their shrink. For Fresh International Market, they helped facilitate the communication and begin the donation process.

“It is an extremely insane amount (of food),” Oswal said. “There’s no reason for any of that food to be going to waste. So much of it is perfectly edible and perfectly good to eat.” 

Yuki Sato, managing assistant at Fresh International Market, said the pilots have been the best thing for their store.

“We have to waste so much produce and frozen stuff, and we didn’t know what to do about that,” Sato said. “So it was good that we didn’t have to waste (it), and we just gave it away for someone that needs the food.”

Oswal hopes to expand the network between grocery stores and food agencies and to also continue running pilots with other organizations in the CU area. Hu and Oswal’s goal is to donate 10,000 pounds of food by the beginning of 2018.

“We’re going to be continuing to increase that number (of food donations) as time goes on,” Oswal said. “We have been successful with our pilot so far, and if we can continue them at the same speed that we’ve been going, we’ll definitely be able to hit that goal and exceed that goal, which is something we’re looking forward to.” 

Oswal expects the app to be out by next year. Until then, she and Hu will continue acting as the app managers and facilitate the transactions manually.

“We’re providing healthy food to these individuals that they might not normally receive and we’re really lucky to be working with our awesome partners,” Oswal said.

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