Thoughts for Monday, September 16 - Food Waste

Published 09/16/2019

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THE WOODLANDS, TX - I am all about reducing the incredibly large amount of waste that is heading to landfills. Today, we'll discuss food waste and why companies are not donating soon-to-expire foods.  

Yes, I travel to various dumpsters to see if there is anything that can be salvaged. Though many do this out of necessity, I do it as a hobby. I find it fascinating to see how much items businesses throw away on a weekly basis - items that can be reused or donated. 

Today, I came across a dumpster full of frozen foods and ice cream. In this Texas heat, if you don't get to these types of items right as they are discarded, there is no way to save them, as the temperatures have melted the foods, rendering them inedible. 

But, instead of throwing them away, why couldn't they have been donated? Many would argue that since they've past their "expiration date," that they are no longer edible, which is not the case. There are usually three formats of "Expiration" dates that are on food items: 

  • Best If Used By - This date suggests when the food will reach it's peak quality. It's still actually edible after this date, but the texture and flavor will not be as appealing to the taste buds.
  • Use By - This date is usually found on more perishable items, such as meats. It's still okay to consume these items, but not for too much longer. 
  • Sell By - This is the date when the grocery store will want to sell the item by. You'll often see these items on the sale racks inside of the grocery store. 

Of course, we all want to eat food when it's at it's peak freshness, but for some, just having a hot meal can make all the difference. With this being said, why don't stores donate these items? The answer comes in three parts: Logistics, Liability and Money. 

Logistically, having to coordinate non-profits to pick up the food can be difficult. The time and money spent doing this would not be profitable to the grocery chain. Furthermore, donating items would hit the wallets of grocery chains. After all, they're in the business of selling food - not giving it away. And lastly, liability. 

Liability gets it's own paragraph because there is much to debunk about this topic. On October 1, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a bill into law that protects business from liability when it comes to donated foods. This bill is called The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (yes, it's a mouthful). This bill was created to encourage businesses to donate foods to non-profit organizations by:

  • Protecting them from liability when they donate to a non-profit organization;
  • Protects them from criminal and civil liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient;
  • Standardizes donor liability exposure. The business or their legal counsel do not need to investigate liability laws in 50 states; and
  • Sets a floor of "gross negligence" or intentional misconduct for persons who donate grocery products. 

I'm afraid that what this all comes down to is time and money, and the business' willingness not to invest in either. All that frozen food you see in the picture will soon end up in a landfill. Imagine how many people all those pounds of food could have helped. Sadly, we'll never know. 

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