​Overcoming Liability to Donate More Unsold Food

The never-ending goal of ending world hunger starts with caring about the exorbitant food waste that is prevalent across the globe. One way that corporations and manufacturers could assist the many US food banks currently suffering from shortages of food donations would be to loosen restrictions on donating unsold food items.

Manufacturers are often dissuaded from giving unsold foods to food banks and charities due to logistical snags. The difficulties associated with safe and efficient transport of perishable food products contribute to why billions of tons of food are wasted annually. Liability concerns, in short, are the primary reason that companies shy away from donating food.

Former President Bill Clinton signed the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in 1996 to encourage retail stores, manufacturers, and even individuals to donate unsold food without fear of criminal penalty. The act, of which many companies are unaware, offers protection to those donating food in good faith to nonprofit organizations. The law clearly defines gross negligence and protects those donating unsold foodstuffs that later become, or are later discovered to be, contaminated. This act alone clears up misconceptions and liability concerns, but it is often not enough to persuade individuals to give.

The Arkansas School of Law conducted extensive research on food donation and US civil liabilities and lawsuits; as of this article, no such litigations or penalties exist in the United States. The fear of litigation is a roadblock that often prevents food growers and manufacturers from donating willfully, not to mention the fear of negative publicity that could occur should their donations be found to be contaminated.

Hunger relief organizations have been benefactors of food donations for decades, as have humanitarian missions overseas. One nonprofit, Food Donation Connection, is yet to receive a contaminated donation despite receiving charitable gifts from places such as the Cheesecake Factory and Red Lobster for twenty-two years. These organizations receive quality food donations, so it stands to reason that food banks could receive the same donations—but simply don’t because of misplaced fears.

Food recovery missions may seem more like a burden than a blessing, but consider this: School cafeterias are starting to team up to provide recovery services that help students learn about responsible food handling, and that helps communities sustain food-offering services. In fact, many chefs and restaurant managers in college cafeterias love participating in goodwill efforts such as food waste remediation. If food is going to be thrown away regardless, why not redirect it to people and organizations that need it most?

Companies such as Starbucks have begun donating unsold foods to catch up with donation demands across America. Panera Bread has initiated its pilot program, Day-End Dough-Nation, which donates perfectly edible yet slightly aged bread to shelters and soup kitchens across America. One coffeehouse in Brooklyn even donates coffee beans that are more than thirty days old to a local food bank. Many companies are trying to solve this problem, but much more need to jump on board.

Despite the efforts of organizations such as Gleaners and Food America, millions of tons of food remain to be recovered. On any given day, more food is destroyed than is donated, and with 22 billion pounds of food sitting idle at the retail level, more work needs to be done so that companies aren’t deterred from donating due to misplaced fears of legal liability. Our hope is that by introducing you the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act protection and zero history of food donation based lawsuits, you can feel confident in doubling down on your own food donation efforts and help us Stop Waste Together.