By Adele Chiang
As first-year student Marisa Lee, 20, left her lecture theatre at the South Spine, she noticed a buffet spread where caterers were sweeping nearly full trays of rice, meat and vegetables into the bin.
Thinking of the money she could have saved had she been able to eat the leftovers, the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) student was prompted to create a Telegram group chat with her friend, Valerie Wong, to alert members to leftover food on campus.
“Food is often over-catered (at buffets). After the guests have finished eating, the leftovers often go to waste,” said Lee.
The group has quickly gained popularity among students, who laud it for reducing food wastage, widening their food options on campus and also, helping them to save money.
In the first week after the group was created on 21 Sep, the locations of six buffets on campus were shared in the group. Presently, the group has more than 1,550 members.
When asked about the reason for the success of the chat group, Wong, a first-year student at WKWSCI, said: “Which broke student wouldn’t want a free meal?”
One member is third-year School of Social Sciences student Cherine Quek, who was amused when she found out about the Telegram group.
“It’s a combination of two things that Singaporeans love: free things and eating,” said the 23-year-old.
Another member, first-year Renaissance Engineering Programme student Sim Zhi Qi, learnt of the group after a friend sent him an invite.
“Most events that I see around North Spine have a significant amount of leftovers, and the food often goes to waste,” said the 21-year-old.
The Telegram group allows students to get free food and minimises food wastage at the same time, he added.
The Nanyang Chronicle previously reported that food waste in NTU had increased from 72 to 78 kilogrammes per person annually from 2015 to 2016. Food waste continues to contribute to nearly half of the total waste in NTU each year.
Second-year School of Biological Sciences student Shamirah A’Azman said these buffets also offer more food options on campus, especially for those with dietary restrictions.
“For us Muslim students who don’t have as many food choices, these buffet leftovers are a good change from school food,” the 21-year-old added. So far, all the buffets Shamirah has been to are halal-certified.
On 28 Sep, members of the group were alerted to a buffet outside Lecture Theatre 8 at the North Spine. Some 20 to 30 people arrived to consume the leftovers.
One of them was second-year Nanyang Business School student Ong Chee Wee, who was having a project meeting nearby when he received the notification from the group chat.
“I had the leftover food for dinner,” said the 22-year-old. “I don’t think there were any leftovers after (everyone) took their portion of food,” he added.
But students should be cautious of eating leftover food from buffet lines.
Director of NTU Food Science and Technology Programme Professor William Chen said bacteria can contaminate food that is left out in the open for too long, which can result in food poisoning.
According to guidelines from the National Environmental Agency, food should not be consumed more than four hours after it has been prepared in the caterer’s kitchen.
Students should arrive and consume the food within this time span, which should be clearly indicated by the caterers, said Prof Chen.
He also strongly advised students to reheat the leftover food at more than 60 degree Celsius before consuming it as the heat helps to kill bacteria.
To tackle the issue of food wastage, Prof Chen recommends adopting a more proactive approach by dealing with the root cause of the problem — over-catering.
“The organisers might feel embarrassed if they do not (cater) enough food (for the guests), but it’s better to have less food than leftovers,” he added.
He suggests that event organisers should re quire students to indicate during the registration process if they will be consuming the food after the event.
Ideally, if the attendance for events is well-estimated, event organisers should not have to deal with leftover food.
School of Art, Design and Media (School of ADM) Student Club president Mavis Lim said the club uses the attendance rate of previous events to estimate how many students to cater for.
As the actual attendance rates often tally with the estimate, these events do not usually end with leftovers, added the 21-year-old.
But in the rare case of having leftover food, the student club typically offers them to students who did not attend the event, or the cleaning staff. They only throw away food as a last resort, said Lim.
The second-year student added that student clubs can play an important role in reducing food waste since most of their events involve catering food.
“(The School of) ADM will continue doing our part to minimise food wastage for future events,” she added.