If you saw a plate of uneaten fries left on someone’s cafeteria tray, would you eat the discarded food?

A group of University of Victoria students is eating leftovers that come from complete strangers to raise awareness about how much food Canadians throw out.

Once a week the group called Vulture Culture sets up a food-sharing table at the university’s main cafeteria and goes searching for food, or what they call “tray-raiding.”

“We carefully select the food to make it look appealing,” said member Nicole Cymerys. “We don’t take food that has been visibly eaten or things such as soup where there is definitely some contact with human saliva.”

The group was formed in an environmental studies class in September after students realized food waste was a problem on campus. 

Members say it’s not that they can’t afford the food, they’re just choosing not to spend money and instead eat meals that are still perfectly edible. 

“People are comfortable with eating their friend’s food so what difference is it eating this kind of food?” Cymerys said.

Vulture Culture aims to break the stigma that tray-raiding and eating second-hand food is gross and shouldn’t be done.

“The way we look at it is that from the way food is produced in today’s society there are hundreds of points of contact on it and this is just one more point of contact in that journey,” said member Megan Dewar.

Island Health officials applaud the group’s intentions, but highlight that eating off a stranger’s plate has risks, including germ and virus contamination.

“Consumers also need to consider the length of time and temperature at which food has been left out, and the associated risks,” said Island Health spokeswoman Kellie Hudson. “Most importantly, we do not want to see any outbreaks happening from the trend of sharing leftover foods from multiple sources.”

The university doesn’t support the group and emphasizes that it has sustainable practices in place to minimize food waste on campus, including composting and recycling.

“When we have high volumes of unsold food items from campus food outlets we donate to the UVSS Student Food Bank,” the university said in a statement.

School officials add that the students are exposing themselves to health risks.

Vulture Culture members say it’s a risk they’re willing to take to promote sustainability.

“We hope that the movement will just keep growing and more people will join the action and see that it’s actually pretty common and people do it on their own time,” Cymerys said.

With files from CTV Vancouver Island's Chandler Grieve