The Food Waste Challenge: Donate Goods, Deduct Food, and Devote Time

Let’s be honest, food waste happens at your restaurant. Some trimmings can be composted, some things recycled, but much more ends up in the trash. Unsightly produce, cans of food on the brink of expiration, and extra prepared dishes add up to money flushed down the toilet. Your last bulk order or a menu change may have you seeing red. Per the Green Restaurant Association, a single restaurant in the U.S. produces between 25,000 and 75,000 pounds of food waste in one year.

Now change your perspective. Last year, over 42 million Americans lived in poverty and in a food insecure household. Nonprofit food banks, food pantries, charitable meal programs, and soup kitchens rely on food donations to provide their communities with hunger relief.

Take another look. Nationwide, a staggering 40 percent of food goes uneaten, and most often than not, ends up in a landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that food waste decomposing in landfills creates methane gas, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

You don’t have to dump a bucket of ice over your head to be aware that your restaurant can be socially responsibility and sustainable. Food waste can become a charitable donation without liability, and your establishment can reap the rewards of tax deductions and community involvement.

So, take the Food Waste Challenge. Here’s how you can donate goods, deduct food, and devote time.

Understand Current Laws

Many restaurant operators assume that their food cannot be donated, citing their own fear of being sued. All 50 states have Good Samaritan laws that protect donors. While more clear-cut guidelines from the FDA and local health departments are necessary, there is also federal reassurance.

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects restaurant owners and operators from civil or criminal liability for food donated in good faith. In other words, if food has not been compromised or neglected, a restaurant is not liable for damages due to illness.

When you are ready to begin a donation process, follow these first few steps:

  • First, check with state and local regulations for the types of food acceptable for donation.
  • Next, find your local charitable organizations and know what foods they will accept, which can range from produce, dry goods, or even hot prepared foods.
  • Make sure that potential donations have been properly handled, stored, and labeled at your restaurant.
  • Ensure proper transportation to keep the cold or hot chain intact. When in doubt, follow ServSafe procedures for donated food.
  • Finally, keep a record of your donations.

The Food Donation Connection and the National Restaurant Association have partnered together to provide a liaison resource for both restaurants looking to donate and agencies that need charitable contributions. Check them out at www.foodtodonate.com.

Tax Credits

In December 2015, The PATH Act passed Congress as part of the 2016 omnibus budget and received President Obama’s signature. A small part of this tax reform gives more restaurant operators enhanced benefits for their charitable food donations.  

Some of the key highlights are:

  • Both C corporations and pass-through entities, like Subchapter S corporations and limited liability companies, are eligible for enhanced deductions.
  • Charitable contributions are capped at 15 percent of the company’s net income, up from 10 percent previously.
  • Protocols surrounding Fair Market Value of donated food have been clearly outlined in simple calculations. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic gives a fantastic primer.
  • Always consult with your tax attorney to clarify how to calculate your deductions for donated goods.

All chefs avoid throwing away good food and many run a tight ship to minimize what goes in the trash at the end of the day. Be aware that other non-food items can be donated, like old equipment, furnishings, and even cleaning supplies.

Community Involvement and Beyond

Participating in a food donation program can build your rapport within the local community. Learn what other restaurants and retailers donate and join forces. In addition, donation can be a part of your marketing plan. Create awareness with your guests and let them know that you are partnering with an organization to fight hunger.  

For example, build promotional events where a percentage of proceeds will go to charity. Keep a small sign near the entrance signifying your partnership with a food charity. Many charities are looking for help sorting and serving food. Turn volunteer efforts into team-building exercises at a food pantry or soup kitchen. Many soup kitchen volunteers have little to no professional training and are looking for guidance and direction to cook, handle and plate food properly.

It’s time to take the Food Waste Challenge!

The USDA and EPA teamed up in 2013 and issued the Food Waste Challenge.  Officially join at http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/join.htm.