The Salt
1:00 pm
Mon February 6, 2012

In Indianapolis, Super Bowl Leftovers Are All Gone (To The Hungry)

The Super Bowl party is over, and that means refrigerators around the country today are jammed with uneaten Frito pies, fried chicken, and seven-layer dips – remnants of one of the most gluttonous days of the year.

Raccoons and Dumpster divers can find glistening troves of leftover food if they know where to look. But in downtown Indianapolis, they'll be mostly out of luck. That's because most of the 30,000 pounds of leftovers generated from the multitude of Super Bowl events has already been served to the hungry by a group called Second Helpings.

Increasingly, food rescue groups in urban areas are capturing the food that never hits the table from large venues, retail outlets and wholesalers. It's one of the ways communities are turning perishable food that would otherwise end up in a landfill into a resource for people in need. According to Second Helpings, 11 percent of households in Indiana are hungry or at risk of being hungry.

It helps that the NFL has made reducing food waste one of its environmental priorities for the Super Bowl. In recent years, it has set up its own food recovery operation to redistribute food to the needy in each Super Bowl city. In Indianapolis, it turned to Second Helpings, which already uses leftovers from the stadiums, convention centers and other venues in town in some of the 3,000 meals it serves every day.

Second Helpings executive director Jennifer Vigran says the NFL first told her to expect up to 90,000 pounds of leftover food in early February. "But the weather was so wonderful and the attendance was so high, I think we didn't have as much food go to waste," says Vigran.

Still, her group has already received 20,000 pounds, and expects at least another 10,000 pounds today. "We are getting some items we don't normally get," Vigran tells The Salt. "Somewhere in there we have some caviar, and prosciutto. So we have to figure out what to do with it."

The prosciutto is headed into a pasta dish with artichokes. And the caviar? Vigran says she's not sure yet, but rest assured, it will be eaten.

The Super Bowl leftovers started rolling into her office last week, as the parties started ramping up. The food is transported in refrigerated vans to keep it safe.

After pick up, the food usually heads to the Second Helpings kitchen, where it gets reassembled into hot or cold meals. From there, it goes out to one of 60 partner agencies in the area – from senior centers to homeless shelters to day care centers.

As with all prepared food, time and temperature are of the essence. "Our biggest challenge is turning the food over quickly enough so it's either frozen or stored safely, and then dispatching it to the community," she says.

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