Strengthen Food Rescue
Key Action Area
Strengthen Food Rescue
Strengthen Food Rescue
Less than 1% of surplus food ends was donated in 2021, with the greatest portion coming from grocery retail. Despite the large amount of produce left behind after harvest, producers donated just 1.6% of the surplus they generated (excluding gleaning). Distribution and logistics challenges contribute to this imbalance and are also the reason why most food donations are of processed, shelf-stable items that are easier to transport and store. As a result, many food relief agencies purchase fruits, vegetables, and other perishables for distribution rather than rely on donations.
"Strengthening food rescue" means furthering the rescue of high-quality, nutritious food by increasing the capacity of food relief agencies, addressing distribution bottlenecks, and improving communication flow. A stronger food rescue system requires expanded storage, transportation, and staffing capacity within food rescue organizations – as well as a consistent flow of goods from food business donations, which can be achieved from implementing solutions like business education or coordination and matching technologies that make food donation easier. The capture and sharing of real- or near-time data can play a key role in enabling more food to be donated and identifying gaps to fill. As solutions in this action area are implemented, it’s critical to maintain an emphasis on the health and dignity of the end recipients – the more than 34 million Americans struggling with food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Historically, Non-Government Grants and Tax Incentives have helped “untrap” food in supply chains to funnel towards food rescue. Public funding and Impact-First Investors can play a significant role in building out physical and educational infrastructure related to sourcing, processing, and transporting rescued food. As a traditionally volunteer-driven enterprise, food rescue is now also seeing new alternative business models successfully emerging, especially when paired with philanthropic grants and policy change. Policy has a core role to play in expanding liability protections by clarifying food safety guidance and improving tax incentives.
Key Indicators (Annual)
Interventions which are either not clearly definable as a specific solution, such as incremental improvement of existing common processes, or solutions that have already been implemented by a sufficiently large number of stakeholders such that there is little additional opportunity for them to address food waste that is still happening in the U.S. today.
Reliable High-Frequency Pickups
Food donation pick-up schedule from food businesses that addresses unpredictability and maximizes the short shelf life of fresh products by limiting time in between pickups on set intervals.
Established Relationships with Businesses
Connections between businesses that can be leveraged to streamline donation pickups for close geographic locations, similar product offerings, or mutual connections with food recovery organizations.
Implementation of best practices for culling and product maintenance, as well as the education, training, and materials needed to ensure consistent use of practices across the industry.
- Philanthropic Funding Moves “Trapped” Food Through the Supply Chain - The lifeblood of food rescue should continue to remain philanthropic funding in the form of Non-Government Grants and market subsidies in the form of Tax Incentives; this will aid in the sourcing of “trapped” food at various food organizations across the supply chain.
- Public Funding for Donation Storage, Capacity, and Education - The expansion of grant and loan programs by federal agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture, can help businesses build processing capabilities, particularly on-farm where there are large opportunities for recovery. The federal and state governments could provide further grant programs to support infrastructure build-out, such as temperature-controlled food distribution infrastructure (e.g., refrigeration warehouses) and processing equipment. Funders can also help drive regional or coordinated efforts for asset sharing to improve overall logistics among various food recovery organizations.
- Impact Investors Supplement Infrastructure for Food Rescue - Lack of infrastructure continues to be a roadblock for many food rescue organizations, whether it’s the capacity to store or process food, a lack of local cold storage, or something as basic as not having a truck to deliver food. These gaps can be addressed by capital searching for impact. By and large, some of these issues are very local, which may not attract typical investors or even philanthropists looking for a scalable solution. Impact-First Investors should look locally to build infrastructure, as this type of investment can lead to significant long-term benefits for a community.
Annual Investment Needed
Tax Incentives - $110.0M
Government Grants - $265.7M
Non-Government Grants - $759.8M
Impact-First Investments - $196.3M
Venture Capital - $23.1M
Corporate Finance & Spending- $107.4M
- Expand Federal Food Donation Enhanced Tax Deduction or create State-Level Tax Incentive for Non-Profit Sales and Transportation Services- [Federal, State; Legislative] Under current law, in order for a donor to claim the federal enhanced deduction for food donation, donations must go to a non-profit organization that does not charge the end recipient for the food, thus excluding tax deductions for social supermarkets that sell donated food at an extremely discounted price, or food recovery organizations that charges $1 to recipients to help offset the costs of home delivery of donated foods. Expanding the federal enhanced tax deduction (or creating new state-level credits or deductions) to cover donations to the ultimate recipient at a deeply reduced price would help incentivize innovation in food recovery and donation. In addition, expanding the deduction (or creating new state-level credits or deductions) to cover transport services would help overcome one of the most expensive barriers to food recovery. These incentives could be provided at the federal or state level.
- Clarify Guidance On Food Safety for Donations - [Federal, State, Local; Legislative, Regulatory] U.S. federal food safety legislation and regulations developed by FDA and USDA generally do not mention the food safety practices that should be followed for food donations, though as of 2023 the FDA Food Code now specifies that food donation is legal. This leads to confusion and a matrix of varying rules in different states and localities. These laws could be updated to feature donation-specific chapters, on topics such as temperature, transportation, and labeling of donated foods. Additionally, FDA and USDA could expand guidance to states and localities on food safety for donated food, including an update to the FDA Food Code to improve state restaurant and retail food safety and ease the process for state regulators to identify how the Food Code and other food safety laws apply to donations. In addition or in the alternative, state and local governments could also provide guidance or regulations to clarify relevant, donation-specific food safety requirements.
- Strengthen Liability Protections for Food Donation - [Federal, State; Legislative] In order to encourage food donation, state legislatures could strengthen liability protections for food donation by broadening protections to include food items with past quality date labels and regardless of compliance with regulations on the quality or labeling of food, or state and federal agencies could conduct education campaigns on donation liability protection for potential food donors and food recovery organizations.
- Require Government Agencies and Their Contractors to Report Food Donations - [Federal, State; Legislative] The existing Federal Food Donation Act requires federal agencies to encourage federal contractors to donate excess food, yet does not stipulate that agency food donation be tracked or monitored in any way. Congress could amend the Act to add a reporting requirement, in order to incentivize more food donation. Additionally, Congress could amend the Act to require covered contracts to include language mandating that agency contractors take steps to donate excess food by creating a written agreement with a food recovery organization.
- Co-Developed Training - Food businesses and food recovery organizations should co-develop staff training on food recovery protocol, including proper culling, handling, and storage based on the needs (e.g., pick-up schedule, donatable foods, space limitations) of the operations.
- Donation Tracking and Integration - Food donors and recipients should collaborate to implement standardized data collection metrics that integrate with food rescue systems to address the current gaps in food recovery tracking and monitoring.
- Change the Culture - Food businesses should promote their engagement with food rescue and secondary resale organizations in order to destigmatize food recovery and encourage prevention among consumers.
- Engaging Health Officials - Health inspectors and others in regular contact with large swaths of the food industry should regularly educate and encourage food donation to expand adoption of waste prevention and food recovery solutions.
- Data-Sharing Technology - Real- or near-time data sharing technology could enable time-sensitive rescue opportunities by informing food type, quantity, condition, and location of product nearing expiration.
- Earned Revenue Models - Earned revenue business models for food recovery organizations can drive scalability and sustainability of recovery activities, especially when they include a strong return on investment for food donors.
- New Approaches to Labor - Increased automation and new business models can reduce food recovery organization reliance on volunteers and ensure a consistent labor force, a critical need that has been highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Sharing Platforms for Idle Assets - While transportation and cold storage are a limiting factor for food donations, many sit idle in businesses. Coordinating platforms and technologies are needed to fully leverage these idle cold storage and transportation assets and allow them to be used to expand food donation infrastructure at minimal cost.
Here's How You Can Reduce Food Waste
Your Source for Data and Solutions:
ReFED's Insights Engine
The Insights Engine is an online hub for data and insights about food waste built from more than 50 public and proprietary datasets, plus estimates and information from academic studies, industry papers, case studies, and expert interviews; a detailed financial analysis of more than 40 food waste reduction solutions; a directory of organizations ready to partner on food waste reduction initiatives; and more. With more granular data, more extensive analyses, more customized views, and the most up-to-date information, the Insights Engine can provide anyone interested in food waste reduction with the information they need to take meaningful action.
ReFED offers a range of solutions for organizations to advance their own food waste initiatives. Our interactive tools, reports and strategic solutions can help your team get started.