Is Food Donation Safe and Legal?

Yes, and here’s the information you need to combat those who say otherwise.

Have you ever been to an event and seen a bunch of leftover food being thrown out and good-naturedly asked if the food could be donated only to be met with a line about getting sued? Yeah, we’ve been there too. There is a persistent belief that food can’t be donated even 22 years after the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was created. The bill was created to encourage people to donate rather than throw out their food, but there still seems to be very little familiarity with the regulation. Most people are shocked to learn they can donate food with little risk of liability. In addition to the Federal legislation, there is also local legislation in California, the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This act gives further protection to food donors by allowing them to donate food that is past its expiration date if it is judged to still be wholesome and good to eat.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act states “a person or gleaner shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals.”Basically, you can donate food as long as it is fit to eat. This is a federal law that was created to provide blanket protection and make food donation easier for everyone in the U.S.

Across the country, there are a plethora of companies serving lunch to their employees, which results in a plethora of leftovers. Some savvy office managers have caught on pretty quickly to food rescue organizations that make donating food safe and easy to do, but many companies still deal with leftovers by throwing them in the compost or landfill bin. While we understand the trepidation, we want everyone to know that donation is a safe and environmentally friendly way to deal with surplus food.

Replate ensures our Food Rescuers have their Food Handlers Certification in addition to our proprietary training to be sure that the food is being handled in the safest way possible. Our nonprofit does turn away some risky foods like raw egg products, Caesar salad dressing, raw fish, and opened dairy products. However, we can accept most items that have been professionally prepared and that have had a safe chain of custody, meaning that the food hasn’t been contaminated or sitting out for too long. We ask donors to refrigerate the food, wash their hands, and use tongs or gloves before packing food to be donated. This helps us keep food as safe possible and gives our recipients peace of mind when they accept food from us.

What can I do to fight the myth that food can’t be donated?

  1. Further educate yourself. Learn about food waste and the ways to prevent it by following credible sources. Understanding the scope of the problem is the first step and there are many valuable resources on the web. Some great places to start are Feeding AmericaReFed, and anything written by Dana Gunders who is a leader in the food waste field.

  2. Donate. When your office organizes events with food, make sure the event coordinator knows about services like Replate (most people don’t know that there are options like us out there!) If your company receives daily lunch and you notice that there are often leftovers, talk to your office manager to find out what is done with the extra food. You can schedule recurring pickups through the Replate platform if you regularly have leftovers or you can just create an account to schedule a pickup on demand if your needs are unpredictable.

  3. Share information with those around you. Remind people that donating food is legal and there are both federal and local laws that protect you from liability. In addition to being legal, it is safe to donate food. Be proactive in sharing information you’ve learned. Chances are people want leftover food to be eaten. After all, it is money and resources spent. Food rescue organizations, like Replate, work hard to keep food safe to protect recipients from falling ill.

It is estimated that 40% of all food in the US is wasted. Food waste is the norm for many Americans. We’ve gotten away with tossing food in the trash by shrugging our shoulders and claiming that we simply can’t donate the food because it isn’t safe or that it isn’t legal. Shaking our heads at the government for not allowing us to or for the litigious nature of our fellow citizens. When in fact there are protections in place for donating food and as far as we can tell no one has sued a food donor.

While food donation is becoming more common it is important that we all do our part in dismantling the myth that it is unsafe or too much of a liability. We have a responsibility to those experiencing food insecurity and to the environment to keep edible food from going in the garbage.