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To Donate Leftover Food Restaurants Officially Have No Excuse

Many restaurants say they’re scared because of liability.


A single restaurant in the Antelope Valley wastes thousands of pounds of food a year making them favorable donors for The Sophia Elizabeth Foundation. But many are unwilling to donate their leftovers, common reason? fear of getting sued. Yet, there is no available public record of anyone in the United States being sued ― or having to pay damages ― because of harms related to donated food. No such lawsuit has ever been waged.



What protects restaurants?

Many local restaurants say they’re resistant to giving away their extra food out of fear of getting sued. Liability is just an excuse, there’s no reason not to donate. It’s ridiculous because those restaurants are protected. In 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (link) protects restaurants from civil and criminal liability should a recipient get ill or hurt as a result of consumed donated food. Donors are only culpable in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. Meaning, if no one has acted in a totally irresponsible or purposely destructive way, lawyers are not interested in going after individuals who make sure the needy do not starve. Also the very people who depend on donated food – the likely plaintiffs – hesitate to bite the hands that helped them.


The local restaurants Doing It Right

Chick Fil A – Palmdale leads with more than 7,000 meals donated this year, followed by Cuban Express – Lancaster and Pedro’s – Palmdale. Local Restaurants are exceptionally positioned to concurrently tackle the Antelope Valley food waste and hunger issues that our community face.

In the U.S., up to 40 percent of food goes to the trash. Last year, one in six households didn’t have enough money for food. Yet, even with the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in place and the vast number of groups that pick up and deliver excess food, many restaurants will still look for an excuse that keeps them from participating in the rescue effort. Every possible excuse and rationale in the book about why not to donate. Every single one of them can be addressed. The Sophia Elizabeth Foundation effectively partner with the food service industry to get high-quality, leftover food into the mouths of people in need. Since its inception, the Sophia Elizabeth Foundation (S.E.F.) works with restaurants, universities, distributors and major venues and collects food five days a week. Because the goods are perishable, everything is delivered on the same day it’s retrieved. S.E.F. has partnered with about 8 nonprofits, including shelters for domestic violence survivors, homeless shelters and low-income schools.

The S.E.F. Team started out by knocking on the doors of caterers and restaurants and would load up their personal vehicles with the items they offered up. The S.E.F Team puts down the seats and laid down a tarp in order to fill the vehicles to their brim. Now, the S.E.F. is operated by 39 volunteers and has 1 refrigerated truck for pickups and deliveries.

Last year, the Sophia Elizabeth Foundation delivered 43,000 servings of food. This year, the organization has already doled out 68,000 servings. S.E.F gets donations from about 7 Antelope Valley restaurants and no restaurant has ever turned S.E.F. down. If anything, S.E.F. can’t accommodate the number of restaurants that are interested in working with S.E.F. The Sophia Elizabeth Foundation typically only picks up food from places that can give a minimum of 50 servings of food.


The Laws require a serious upgrade

While restaurants nationwide are technically protected from getting sued should an issue arise, some say that the guidelines around donation procedures need to be more uniform to help ease concerns and streamline the process. In order to be protected under the Bill Emerson act, restaurants must comply with state and local food sanitation and label regulations, which vary widely. There’s no agreed upon system on how to safely donate food. When a health inspector, or the Department of Health and Human Services start intervening ― unfortunately, that perpetuates the myth that it’s illegal. For example, one state might permit donating food that was put out for self-serve, while another might not. Some areas might require specific types of package labeling, while others don’t.

Getting the FDA and local health departments to help craft more clear guidelines on how to donate food safely is critical to getting more restaurants on board to donate. It’s high time to improve such guidelines considering how far advancements have come in food conservation since the Bill Emerson Act was passed. At the time, the industry didn’t have a full scope understanding of how much food was being wasted. The act mostly had salvaging frozen food and expired packages of Rice-A-Roni in mind when it was passed. We’re sort of trying to use this analog tool in a digital age, the world has changed dramatically since the Bill Emerson Act was passed. Now, it merits a second look, so it can continue to facilitate important socially responsible work.