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Food Recovery—Bridging the Gaps

December 8, 2015

I had the pleasure of participating in the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3) Preconference workshop in November – Food Recovery: Wasted Food Prevention. The workshop was an engaging and informative opportunity.  Some 65 representatives from state, regional, and local government, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector gathered to share program results, insights, and potential action on reducing wasted food.

It was particularly insightful for those of us working in the field to implement wasted food reduction, recovery, and organics diversion programs to hear from professionals in the food recovery arena. It’s not often that materials managers have the occasion to engage with representatives from food banks and food rescue organizations.

We heard Mark Quandt, Executive Director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern, New York talk about the “Legalities of Donating Food.” One of the issues that food recovery organizations face is getting businesses to overcome their fear of potential legal ramifications from donating food. Certainly most of us who work in this arena are familiar with the federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act which provides legal protection to those donating food to food recovery organizations in good faith.

Many businesses are reluctant to donate excess food due to concerns of potential liability for foodborne illnesses, allergen exposure, and other possible consequences for the ultimate consumers of the donated food. The task for those of us working to reduce wasted food is to provide information about the Good Samaritan Act to grocers and other food scrap generators and convince them that donating nonperishable food to food banks is safe and that donors are legally protected.  Food Banks train their staff and volunteers to know what’s acceptable, proper storage, etc. Food Banks also know that they fall under the Food Donation Act and USDA policies and thus must handle, store, and serve the food they receive responsively. To date there has been no known legal action filed against a food donor.

Take the first step by engaging with the food bank organization serving your region. Learn what types of food can be donated, how it needs to be collected and stored, and the areas where the food bank has routes for collection.

One thing that I recently became aware of is that many food banks do not collect from restaurants. Grocery stores often have nonperishable food—canned or packaged food—that can be donated if it nears its “sell by date.” Food Banks may also be able to accept produce and even baked goods from grocers. However, because most food banks usually act as distributors of nonperishable food to local food rescue organizations, such as soup kitchens, they typically do not handle smaller quantities of perishable food donations. Restaurants are more likely to have cooked, unserved food leftover.

Donations of perishable prepared foods, typically collected from restaurants, caterers, corporate dining rooms, hotels, and other food establishments, can provide a valuable source of food for needy people. Many food rescue organizations, soup kitchens and shelters, for example, will work with generators of perishable food. This is another important connection for those of us working in the field to make.

Working with local food rescue organizations to ensure they have the needed equipment, such as refrigerated trucks or refrigerated storage units for vehicles and a prompt distribution network, is essential. Making the connections to generators of perishable prepared foods, training them in proper storage, and building partnerships between these generators and food rescue organizations, will have significant benefits for communities and in reducing wasted food.

Knowing the benefits of food recovery and presenting these to food generators will help as well—lower disposal costs, community benefits from helping food insecure families and individuals, and the environmental benefits from not having the donated food end up in a landfill. Connecting businesses with additional resources, recognition programs, and wasted food reduction tracking programs, such as EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, will also help.

For more on what can be done to reduce wasted food, see NERC’s Email Bulletin article - Rethinking the Holidays and my recent blog post – Rethinking Wasted Food.

Next week’s blog is titled Food Recovery—Connections for Households. Most of the wasted food in America is generated by households. Household food donation models are one way to increase awareness about wasted food and connect people and communities in recovering food for donation.

By Athena Lee Bradley

Through its Implementing the Food Recovery Hierarchy in Vermont project, NERC is putting together a compendium of wasted food reduction, recovery, and composting projects. Have a program or project you want to share? Send your program information to Athena Lee Bradley.

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