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Salvaging Food: Restaurants and Food Waste

[This is the first in a four-part series on salvaging food, reprinted with permission from the Bread New Mexico blog.]

360px-Dumpster-a-plentyBy Carlos Navarro

The issue of household food waste has grabbed a lot of headlines in recent months, but restaurant food waste is a problem not talked about as frequently. I started putting together this blog post to highlight how the City of Santa Fe and anti-waste nonprofit Reunity Resources developed a pilot progam to convert food scraps to compost.  As I was conducting research on how restaurants deal with leftover food, I came across a very interesting and comprehensive guide, put together by the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), for restaurants to donate their leftover meals to food-salvage operations.

So, I decided to look at the issue in a four-part series. Part 1 offers excerpts from the guide; part 2 will provide excerpts from a memorial passed by the New Mexico state legislature to encourage the state's public schools to donate excess food; part 3 describes how food salvage got its start in Santa Fe; and part 4 looks at the operation that turns food scraps into compost.

Here are a few excerpts from the report "Food Donation: A Restauranteur's Guide."

Food Donation
Of the many methods employed to fight the problem of hunger in America, food recovery may be one of the best because it makes use of wholesome food that would otherwise be discarded. A June 1997 study by the US. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that more than one-quarter of all food produced in the nation is wasted. The study, conducted by the USDA Economic Research Service, is the first of its kind in 20 years to examine and quantify food loss. The study found that, in 1995, about 96 billion pounds of food-or 27 percent of the 356 billion pounds of food available for human consumption in the United States-were lost at retail, consumer and foodservice levels... With little effort, [restauranteurs] can make a huge difference in the lives of children, the elderly, the home- less and even the working poor in their communities by doing something that is already second nature to most restaurant professionals-feeding people.

Rescuing Fresh Produce
Restaurateurs should begin their search for donation items by looking at the food they have in storage, such as fresh produce that will spoil before it can be used. While no one would want to eat anything that is moldy, there are many occasions when perfectly edible fruits and vegetables are thrown out because they have passed the point of restaurant quality or freshness or are discovered to have bruises or to be soft so that the produce cannot be served to customers.

Protection from Liability
One of the biggest obstacles to donating food to hunger programs has always been the prospective donor’s fear of liability. However, everyone involved in the fight against hunger is now breathing easier since the passage of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in October 1996. The coverage provided by this law-in combination with proper food-safety practices and thorough documentation-will go a long way toward protecting restaurants from liability in the unlikely case of a lawsuit involving donated food.

Carlos Navarro has been a Bread member for over 20 years and has led Bread’s presence in New Mexico for the last decade. He maintains the Bread for the World New Mexico website and blog, and serves on the Bread for the World board of directors.

Photo: A trash bag full of vegetables in a dumpster. (Flickr user Gabriel Amadeus)

 

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