Several photographs taken behind the scenes at a Dallas Independent School District food service facility show several pallets of food items, stacked high with dozens of cases that represent thousands of dollars of wasted food being thrown in the garbage.
But the district says there is minimal food waste and they hope to donate to local nonprofits soon.
The photos were submitted to NBC DFW by a food service employee who is concerned about food waste within the largest school district in North Texas.
The photographs were taken on multiple dates within the last year, the oldest of which dates back to June 2017.
A Dallas ISD spokesperson confirmed that the images are legitimate and that the boxes in the pictures contain various items including frozen chicken and packets of ketchup, and that all of the food pictured had passed its expiration date.
A picture taken in June 2017 shows a pallet of 48 boxes of 1,000 count Red Gold ketchup packets – 48,000 individual packets in total – being thrown away.
A customer service representative of the Red Gold company said that the shelf life for their ketchup packets is about 9 months, with 12 months being the longest they would recommend.
Multiple other pictures, dating from January and from March of this year, show dozens of boxes of frozen chicken stacked on pallets and discarded either in or beside one of two dumpsters that appear to be full of other food items.
One photo shows the date "10/26/2016" written in black marker on a cellophane wrapping that surrounds one pallet of chicken. According to the photographer, that is the date that the chicken was received at the Maria Luna Food & Child Nutrition Services Facility, located at 1515 Al Lipscomb Way. The date that the photograph was taken, showing the discarded chicken in the dumpster, was Jan. 31, 2018. In all, there appear to be at least 50 boxes of chicken in that photograph.
Robyn Harris, the Director of News and Information for the Dallas Independent School District, stressed that the district has numerous systems in place that minimize food loss.
“Any food loss is not preferable, and we continue to work diligently to eliminate these occurrences,” Harris said.
According to Harris, Dallas ISD spends approximately $55 million on food every year to feed approximately 150,000 students. Year-to-date Dallas ISD has lost less than .0063 percent or $346,500 of all food purchased, Harris said.
Representatives for both the Texas Department of Agriculture and the City of Dallas, both of which establish food safety standards that the Dallas ISD must follow, there is no law or ordinance that would have prevented the school district from donating that food to a food bank, for example, prior to its expiration.
One North Texas food bank, when reached for comment by NBC DFW, would have been happy to accept that food.
“It hurts my heart because there are still so many hungry people,” said Regina Taylor, Executive Director of Community Food Bank in Fort Worth, when shown the photographs of the discarded food. “But I understand.”
The Community Food Bank, a nonprofit that has been feeding hungry families from all across Dallas-Fort Worth for more than three decades, has an ongoing relationship with Dallas ISD – along with several other school districts – where they provide the district with food care packages that can be given to food insecure children.
Taylor emphasized that, while it is wasteful to discard food that could have been donated had it been identified prior to expiration, it can be difficult for any large organization to handle the logistics of coordinating the transportation of food; frozen food in particular.
“They’re doing the best they can, but what’s happening in Dallas is happening everywhere. That is part of the job of being in the food business,” Taylor said. “Trust me – the Dallas school district does not want to throw away a pallet of ketchup.”
To that point, Robyn Harris of Dallas ISD noted that the district has “donated and/or shared various foods with more than a dozen North Texas public school districts and are currently working on authorization to allow us to share with the North Texas Food Bank and other area nonprofits.”
“We are working to establish our ability to share foods with community partners/nonprofits so that we can totally eliminate such losses in the future,” Harris said.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story reported a dollar amount of food disposed of so far this year calculated from a percentage of Dallas ISD's annual budget. NBC 5 has reached out to the district to confirm this number. Please check back later for the update.