Food Donation Guidelines and Produce Waste: 3 Things to Know

According to a report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste, 24% of landfilled and 22% of combusted solid waste is from food waste. In this case, wasted food refers to inedible or spoiled food, or food that’s been served but not eaten. 

As sustainable food management has become more of a priority in recent years, it’s important to understand that food waste is not only a moral issue–wasting the resources put into producing the food (grower to table), but it also significantly impacts the profit margins of growers, shippers, and distributors of all sizes.

An alternative to sending excess food to landfills is donation. Here are some food donation guidelines, and how Silo can help your produce business prevent waste.

The benefits of donating food

The most obvious benefit of donating food is that you’ll be feeding hungry people rather than supplying landfills with more waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 10.5% of American households had difficulty securing food in 2019. By donating food to neighbors in need, you’ll be supporting your local community.

Additionally, there are financial benefits to food donation. Not only will you be paying less for trash pickup, but businesses that donate food can receive tax incentives from the government in the form of deductions or credits. For example, one California food donation tax incentive allows taxpayers to claim a credit worth 15% of the market price of their donated produce to food banks.

Another important benefit is environmental sustainability. When food ends up in landfills (often in plastic bags or non-degradable packaging), the nutrients don’t return to the soil. Instead, it ends up rotting and producing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s a major contributor to climate change.

As long as you’re following the proper food donation regulations, donated food will actually be put to good use.

3 things to know for food donation to prevent produce waste

That said, there are some things to keep in mind when donating food. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Conduct an audit on wasted food beforehand

A wasted food audit lets you know whether you actually have excess to donate and exactly how much you have to spare. Measuring how much waste your business generates lets you make more informed changes to support hunger efforts, reduce environmental impact, and increase your business’ tax benefits.

While manual tracking methods like paper waste logs are a start, they can be inaccurate and inefficient. Consider instead investing in an ERP solution like Silo to automate the process. The right ERP platform lets you see the amount of waste your business has ended up with based on your unsold inventory.

From there, you can cut down on food waste by deciding how much produce you can donate before it goes bad.

2. Look up places to donate food

Make sure you’re following food donation guidelines based on where you’re donating your food. Common places to donate are local food banks and food rescue programs, which collect excess food and redistribute it to those in need.

Food banks are more community-based and work with agencies like shelters, pantries, or soup kitchens. They store the food they receive in warehouses before having agencies give them to nearby families and individuals in need. 

As a result, food banks tend to ask individuals for non-perishable items that have a long shelf life, like canned goods. Items that need refrigeration may spoil easily when food banks lack the necessary facilities to keep items fresh.

However, that doesn’t mean fresh produce can’t be donated by businesses. In fact, many food banks work directly with produce businesses to provide people in need with healthy fruits and vegetables. Contact your local food bank to check their food donation guidelines and whether they’re looking for businesses to work with.

Food rescue programs work in a similar way, but may deliver donated food directly to people in need. They also offer training and education in food waste prevention, safety, and nutrition, such as how to repurpose donated food into healthy meals.

3. Don’t donate food that’s about to go bad

Generally, the idea is that if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t expect others to. For food banks, perishable items should be donated long before they’re about to spoil. 5.4% of excess food that’s donated to food banks ends up as waste due to spoilage or damage. For food that’s about to expire, consider instead sending it to a composting facility.

You may be able to rest assured, though, that there are federal food donation laws like the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that protect you from liability. As long as you haven’t acted intentionally or with negligence, your business will not be held responsible for damage caused by food-borne illnesses.

Concerning state laws, Sections 114432-114434 of the California Health and Safety Code, for example, mandates that food facilities that donate perishable food are protected under the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act if the item has exceeded its shelf life, but the person distributing the food properly evaluated that it was good to give away.

Reduce food waste with Silo

Your business can reduce waste by following food donation guidelines and giving away excess, but to begin donating, you’ll have to first know how much you can afford to hand out.

Silo is a produce ERP solution that gives you greater visibility over your business’ operations.  Make your workplace more efficient with our platform’s business analytics, produce inventory reporting, lot tracking, and traceability features.

With business analytics and reporting, calculate profit margins and prevent waste with real-time reporting. Having accurate data lets you be proactive in minimizing waste and generating more profit with the produce you have. Minimize unused goods and reduce costs with inventory waste reports for efficient cost management.

With lot tracking and traceability, receive valuable insight into a lot’s history and current status. You can access information on availability, profitability, quality, and waste at any time and from anywhere.

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