No time to waste. No food to waste.
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For months, with friends and volunteers in our School district (Allendale, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River and Ho-Ho-Kus) in New Jersey, we have requested donations of excess food from several local supermarkets to distribute to people facing food insecurity. We registered as a Nonprofit to gain credibility and gave our group a name: FrontLine Teens, because we put our group and ideas together when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and its devastating effects on our economy and society became overwhelming. We believe Teenagers can help society overcome crisis and should be fighting on the “front Line”.
Sadly, all our requests for donations of excess food from supermarkets were denied with the same abrupt response: Supermarkets can’t donate their excess food; it needs to be destroyed and disposed for liability reasons.
One supermarket manager was kind enough to spend a few minutes with us and explain how they have to take great measures to destroy their excess food, like dumping chlorine on it to prevent lawsuits; Armed with printed materials explaining the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, and the State and Federal laws protecting food donors from potential liability we went to talk to more supermarkets, but the information still couldn’t help us. They all knew about Good Samaritan Laws, but they also knew, they could still be taken to court and the risk of a lawsuits is much greater than any possible benefit of giving us their unsellable or ugly food. To them, it wasn’t worth the risk and against policy. Supermarkets have an elaborate system in place designed to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations on top of their own company policy.
The main hurdle lays in the lack of federal or state guidance on how to safety conduct donations. Even if a grocery store manager would decide to trust the protection from Good Samaritan Laws and make a donation, he would be in the uncertain territory; from what can be included or how to transport donations, to whether food needs to be kept cold and how interpreting best-by dates. He would be basically inventing his own policy at his own risk! To this day, we haven’t been able to convince any supermarkets to donate any excess products to us. Our request is for ugly or imperfect apples, oranges, tangerines or pears, or any kind of single packed snacks or juices to add to the paper bag lunches we prepare for the homeless every other week. All due to the lack of a procedure for supermarkets to follow if donating foods.
We have read extensively about the efforts supermarkets and the government are taking on the road to prevent food waste, but in reality: SUPERMARKETS DUMP HUNDREDS OF POUNDS OF EDIBLE FOOD ON A REGULAR BASIS! Every day efforts are delayed, donations that could go to feed the hungry go to waste by the Ton. According to Feeding America, every year, more than 43 billion pounds of food from grocery stores get thrown away. Fear of lawsuits, due to vague laws and nonexistent regulations prevent food from being donated to people in need.
Our petition: 1. WE NEED NEW JERSEY’S GOVERNMENT TO APPOINT OR CREATE A REGULATORY AGENCY (Possibly the NJ department of health) TO GUIDE BUSINESSES IN TERMS OF FOOD WASTE. 2. SAID AGENCY SHOULD IMPLEMENT GUIDANCE ABOUT HOW FOOD RETAILERS SHOULD SAFELY HANDLE THE PROCESS OF DONATING AND ENFORCE COMPLIANCE. 3. REQUIRE EVERY SUPERMARKET TO PARTNER WITH A CHARITY ORGANIZATION AND HAVE A SENSIBLE SYSTEM IN PLACE TO ELIMINATE FOOD WASTE AND DONATE EXCESS FOOD TO HELP FEED THE PEOPLE IN NEED AS PART OF REGULAR OPERATIONS. 4. NEW JERSEY’S GOVERNMENT SHOULD OFFER ADDITIONAL TAX INCENTIVES BEYOND FEDERAL INCENTIVES TO COMPENSATE FOR THE INCREASE OF COSTS AND RESOURCES DEDICATED TO DONATIONS.
We Need a Law requiring all supermarkets to donate and recycle their unsold products in order to help mitigate both, food waste and food insecurity. On April 14th, and after 6 years of discussions, Murphy signed bill A2371 into Law requiring large food waste generators to separate and recycle food waste instead of sending it to landfills. We believe this law was the first step to ensure change in the way food waste is handled. However, it is disappointing that this law doesn’t include anything about donations, especially since similar Legislation in other states are already requiring supermarkets to donate their food.
Supermarkets are private owned business; they can buy whatever amount of food they want and do whatever they want with their inventory; they manage their operations and products in whatever way better fit their business. All of that is fair, and we all want supermarket owners to be successful in order to generate more jobs and support the economy. However, we are talking about food here. Food has a vital component that must be addressed as soon as possible! Food retailers carry a social responsibility beyond their business operations. Food is humanity’s most basic necessity; It has a value beyond its business value and it should be measured in units beyond a price tag.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), and several other agencies are in charge of regulating and ensuring food safety for human consumption. They regulate how food should be manipulated, processed, handled and distributed. So, why are they not regulating the process of food donations and food waste if those are certainly part of the food industry? The FDA should also carry the responsibility of establishing standards, regulating and enforcing how and when edible food can be destroyed and these standards should be added to the FDA Food Code as .). We believe the value of food itself needs to be protected and donations of eatable food to charity should be included as mandatory in the system of dealing with food. Although supermarkets see price tags on the shelves, food to some people is the difference between eating anything at all.
New Jersey is proactive and compromised with reducing food waste and food insecurity and we are proud of all that has been accomplished and underway, but a determined legislative action is needed specifically to ensure edible food (unmarketable due to labeling, appearance or surplus) is separated from scraps and donated to charity as part of regular operations in supermarkets and large generators of food scraps.
Similar legislations in place:
Similar laws requiring and regulating excess food donations are already in place in other states; New York recently passed Legislation requiring: “Large generators of food scraps must: 1. Separate and donate edible food and 2. Separate and recycle all remaining food scraps if within 25 miles of an organics recycler”.
According to this survey compelled from Harvard Law School in 2018, twelve states have verified legislation or regulations addressing food safety for food donations. Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. However, Texas is the only state with a comprehensive section in its regulations addressing all types of donated food, which includes topics such as temperature, the quality of packaging, labeling of donated foods, and food shelf life.
Another Example is France, worlds’ pioneer on legislating and regulating mandatory excess food donations. From them, we can confirm the law, in effect since 2016, have been successfully implemented and returns consistent positive results. The regulation mandates that supermarkets above ~4,500 square feet sign an agreement with food assistance organizations to donate their excess edible, unsold products. According to Foodtank.com representatives of both food assistance organizations and supermarkets observed that donation quantities increased by approximately 30 percent in 2017
Where do NJ Legislation Stands:
In 2017 New Jersey passed legislation to establish food waste reduction goal of 50% by 2030. In 2019 Murphy signed 10 bills designated to help battle the hunger in the state, including A4705, establishing the New Jersey Food Waste Task Force, tasked with implementing a food waste reduction plan and developing future actions towards sustainable and achievable food waste reduction. The draft of this plan clearly emphasizes the high importance of donations as they are the second tier of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, and reads “The New Jersey Department of Health has a role to educate and inform the public about this protections (God Samaritan Act) to remove liability as a perceived barrier to donating food” and “By educating institutions about liability protection, food donations may become a more frequent occurrence and considered a preferred solution instead of merely disposing of surplus food”. Law AJR174 also, passed in 2019, Urges large food retailers in the state to reduce food waste.
We feel NJ Legislation in food waste is too passive and merely about educating, informing, urgings and suggesting changes. We would like to see a legislation that takes control of the problem and enforce the necessary changes and we need the NJ department of health to do a little more to educate and inform! We need them to implement guidance about how food retailers should safely handle the process of donating and enforce compliance.
Why changes can’t wait?
We are in a critical time of the hunger crisis; Food insecurity affected more than 50 million Americans in 2020, an increase of 13 million since 2018. Much of this increase was due to job losses and the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Community FoodBank of New Jersey, COVID-19’s Impact on Food Insecurity in New Jersey Report, More than 1.2 million NJ residents are projected to be food insecure in 2020, with 431,000 newly food insecure last year.
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