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August 1, 2017

Food Waste: How Your Restaurant Can Make a Difference

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety

Food waste is a pressing issue. Americans dispose of 160 billion pounds of food per year. That’s 40% of all food available, or 730 football stadiums full of discarded but safe food that is still edible. Many restaurants contribute to this waste when they dispose of unsold food at the end of the day. If just 30% of that wasted food were redistributed, it could feed all food insecure Americans their complete daily diet.

In this post, we’ll take a look at why so many restaurants are disposing of their food rather than donating it to local food banks.

“Sell By” Dates

Many people religiously follow the “sell by” or “best by” dates on food packaging. According to Harvard Law, 91% of consumers reported at least occasionally discarding food past its “sell by” date out of concern for the product’s safety and 25% of people reported that they always do. However, the “best by” date doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe for consumption after the date listed.

There is no industry standard around “sell by” dates on packaging. Manufacturers and retailers are allowed to define their shelf-life standards. This means that there are many different views of what “best by” actually means, whether it be optimum freshness or food safety prevention.

For restaurants with grab-and-go options, if something is past its “sell by” date, they will remove it from the shelves, even if it is still safe to consume. Similarly, with pastries, baked goods, and other perishables, anything that is unsold by the close of business each day is thrown out. Not because the food is unsafe to consume, but because it is no longer at peak freshness. No restaurant wants to sell stale bagels or soggy pre-made sandwiches since it would negatively impact their brand.

However, with over 42M food insecure people in the US today, it’s a shame to know that so much perfectly edible food is going directly into landfills.  While donating food seems like an easy solution, it’s been thought to be a major liability, but is it?

Food Donations

In 2016, a study showed that 41% of restaurants and 25% of retailers identified liability concerns as the reason for not donating their foods. Even if they know the food is safe to consume, restaurants and retailers won’t donate it out of fear that someone might become sick and they would be liable.

Luckily, in recent years, two pieces of legislation have been passed which allow restaurants to sell or donate foods to food banks without fear of liability.

  • Good Samaritan Food Donation Act: Exempts restaurants making donations of food to nonprofit organizations from liability for injuries arising from the consumption of the donated food unless acting with gross negligence or intentional misconduct
  • Food Donation Act: Expands liability protections, eliminates labeling requirements, clarifies that donations of past due food are protected, and promotes awareness of food donation capabilities


Given these legal protections, food donation is one of the best methods to divert food waste, as it both feeds food insecure populations and is better for the environment.

While these laws offer liability protection, food safety and temperature monitoring become logistical concerns with regards donating perishable foods. Ready-to-eat foods, dairy, and fresh produce need to be kept at the proper temperature during transportation to the food bank to ensure food safety.

In our next post, we’ll explore how Starbucks is making a difference in the fight against food waste and how temperature monitoring is an integral part of that battle.

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This information is from the Food Safety Summit (FSS) 2017. A great feature of the FSS is the information sessions which cover a wide range of topics for food safety professionals. This presentation was presented by Starbucks and Feeding America. 

Topics: Food Safety

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