Please don’t make me do this.
It’s amazing that I once heard those very words uttered by someone in our industry when discussing how their facility and event could easily donate excess food to feed people in need and reduce landfill. After discussing the matter with the event’s catering manager, who was still not convinced of its importance, she said to us, “Please don’t make me do this.” To this day, I’ll never understand why she said this.
It’s not, and should never be, difficult to enhance your event’s sustainability. There are so many great ways to do so. In this post, let’s talk about one such approach and solution – the excess food that is prepared but not served at the event.
As a former meetings professional, I understand that the work involved in getting your F&B numbers precise is a hit-or-miss proposition at best. Buffet versus sit-down. Who’s going home early? Who didn’t communicate that they’re attending? It’s a guessing game. From the facility’s perspective, they also factor in a small excess percentage (it’s been in the 3-5% range for many years) to make sure they don’t get caught without enough food to serve.
The question isn’t whether there’ll be excess food at your event, but rather, what to do with the excess. This is where we come to the major point of misinformation that this industry (and many people) believe.
We can’t donate excess food, because we don’t want to get sued or have any liability in case something happens.
Makes sense, especially in our litigious society, right? However, it’s completely unfounded. Two things you need to know:
- An organization has never been sued for donating leftover food (especially prepared but not served) to help feed those in need
- For over 20 years, a federal law has supported organizations that wish to donate leftover food
The aforementioned federal law is the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act. Most meetings professionals don’t realize that this act is in place to protect organizations that donate food. Twelve years later, to make sure that we all understood the intent of the first law, Congress passed the Federal Food Donation Act of 2008, encouraging organizations to continue donating. A number of states are following suit to pass their own State Food Donation Act.
The question of how you recover the food is up to you. An organization that I’ve been associated with for nearly 20 years, Rock and Wrap It Up!, handles most of the process for you, including vetting agencies that can readily use the food and coordinating the pickup with the facility. In 2018, we picked up and delivered over 750,000 pounds of food, serving over 600,000 meals and reducing landfill impact by diverting over 400,000 pounds of CO2e. Our approach, in order to stay within the letter of the law, is to only pick up the food that is prepared but not served.
Our Whole Earth Calculator, a free mobile app, coverts the pounds of food donated into both meals served and CO2e decreased by reducing the dumping of excess food into landfills. These calculations are based on USDA and EPA formulas.
So that excess food, still in the kitchen at your event, need not go to waste. Sustainability can be very easy, indeed!
James Spellos is a frequent FICP speaker and contributor, presenting on technology trends. He also speaks about food recovery and sustainability as part of his work with Rock and Wrap it Up!, an anti-poverty/hunger think tank.