Can Restaurants Donate Food?

restaurants donating foodYou’ve likely seen the stories on the evening news; stories about people who find themselves out of work and unable to afford food, accompanied by photos of them picking through trash dumpsters for their dinner. Yet, you’ve also likely seen the mounds of food left on diners’ plates at restaurants every day. Is there any way that restaurants can donate food, so that people needing food can get it?

Restaurants can absolutely donate food, as long as they do it with care. In fact, there are a number of benefits that a restaurant can reap by giving food they cannot sell to the public.

What law protects those that donate food?

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It protects any donor from liability, unless there is reason to believe they were intentionally altering the food products to injure those receiving it.

Potential donors were often leery of donation because of the risk of legal liability. The federal legislature agreed that donation should be protected as an act of good faith, and that there needed to be a process for transferring food waste into the hands of the hungry.

Before the bill was passed, 14 billion pounds of food were sent to American landfills each year. All 50 states, and the District of Columbia, had already passed local legislation intended to protect donors, but the language of those state bills typically only protected small local entities. The federal bill allowed national corporations, like chain restaurants, to become active participants in food donation programs.

Are there exceptions to that protection?

No, as long as you are making an honest donation, there are no exceptions. The law protects farmers, gleaners, wholesale companies, restaurant owners, retail locations, governmental agencies, civic organizations, private clubs, individuals, and more. It specifically excuses those donating from both civil and criminal negligence charges unless there is evidence that they were grossly negligent or intentionally causing harm.

For example, a company that happened to donate a case of peanut butter that was part of an e coli recall is not negligent, and not liable for any related illness. On the other hand, a company that intentionally added antifreeze to something that they were donating in order to intentionally sicken those receiving it, is wholly liable.

What kinds of food can be donated?

Packaged foods, fresh produce, and prepared dishes can all be donated. The Emerson Act specifically states that any food that meets the quality and labeling standards enforced through state and federal law, or that meets all other regulations, can be donated. It also states that those foods may not be marketable at the point they are donated. It notes that food that is aged, surplus to a business’s needs, past its freshness date, and more, can be donated and used to supply the needy.

What are the benefits of donation?

Restaurants enjoy a number of benefits as a direct result of donating food. Perhaps first and foremost, they become an active member of the community. It is important for restaurants to let the public know that they are concerned with the welfare of local citizens. Making donations to local fundraisers, and food pantries will make the restaurant more visible, and more of a community member.

Also, donating unused food improves a restaurant’s profitability. Simply removing waste food from the dumpster and placing it in the hands of the needy reduces waste, and allows restaurants to pay for less frequent trash services. The donated food can also be deducted from taxes as a charitable donation, while waste cannot.

What are ways for a business to donate food?

Restaurants can find a variety of ways to donate food. First, looking for fundraisers that are asking for catering donations is a great way to use product that is not selling, while it is still fresh, and give something back to the community. These fundraisers typically offer some kind of advertisement in exchange for the donation and make the restaurant extremely visible, while giving the public a little taste, literally, of what you have to offer.

Another great way to donate food is to offer fresh produce to a food pantry just before it goes bad. When it is clear that your fruits or veggies will get overripe before you use them, take the time to sort out and donate your excess. The food pantry can get it in the hands of people who will use it quickly, and ensure it does not go to waste. Additionally, fresh produce is a special treat for those in need because most donations come in the form of prepackaged non-perishables.

Similarly, go through the shelves of non perishables and chests of frozen goods often. As canned goods or boxed ingredients near their use-by date, donate and replace them. If a package of meat was shoved to the back of the freezer, and it is past the storage date you are comfortable serving to the public, donate it. Basically, any food that you are sure is still safe to eat, but you are unwilling to serve, can be donated to a food pantry in the area.

Finally, prepared dishes that did not get used can be donated. Contact a local food pantry, homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or other service agency and ask if they would like to come by and pick up your leftover prepared foods on a regular basis. These are a special treat for these agencies as well, and take a significant amount of pressure off of those trying to prepare meals with meager supplies.

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