Both hunger and food waste are serious problems. Food rescue helps to not only stock shelves of food pantries but is also good for our communities and the climate. Food recovery, food salvage or surplus food distribution are all terms used to describe food rescue. It is what food banks, food shelves and meal programs do to glean edible food that would otherwise go to waste from places such as farms, produce markets, grocery stores, and restaurants then distribute it to local emergency food programs. It is also part of our climate solution, but that is a larger topic for another day.
Safe food that is currently thrown away could help feed hungry people and reduce food insecurity. In this article, we have interviewed a local food rescue expert, Karla Bauer, Food Rescue Lead at Second Harvest Heartland, one of the largest food banks in the country. We discussed how Second Harvest and our very own, Bountiful Basket Food Shelf in Chaska conduct food rescue and are able to help those in need with a variety of healthy, edible and quality food choices. Today, 42M people experience food insecurity while we throw away 40% of our food supply. (foodrescue.usa.com, March 2023)
Last year, Bountiful Basket rescued 122,082 pounds of food that was able to be safely distributed to our families which is equivalent to 101,735 meals.
What is food rescue to you?
Our Second Harvest food rescue team is focused on working with retailers who sell groceries. The food we rescue is healthy, nutritious, and good quality; but for some reason, it is not saleable. “There are all kinds of reasons food is unsaleable, but it is still good for human consumption,” Karla explained, “The most important thing is that the food is of good quality, safe and not compromised—meaning the package is not broken and it is labeled and packaged for retail.”
How do we know they have food to be rescued? Who is usually our key contact?
Every retailer is different. We work with every department in every grocery store meaning the
bakery, deli, produce, and meats. We might check in with every department manager and the general manager. The receiver, the people in the back room are key, and we work closely with them. There is an intrinsic value too–store employees feel rewarded when they don’t have to throw food out. We pick up the food with our drivers and trucks, having a fleet of 10 refrigerated trucks. With over 500 retail partners in our network, we can get pallets of food every day, such as from Costco or Target.
On a local level, food shelves themselves also deploy staff and volunteers to pick up food from their local groceries. At Bountiful Basket, volunteers pick up daily from either Aldi, Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, Lunds & Byerlys, or Target. The food is picked up in the morning and distributed the same day.
What about expired dates, sell-by or use-by dates? How do you know what can be used?
“We all look for “long food,” and safety is our key concern. We have guidelines on what can and cannot be used,” Karla went on to explain. We reference the date on the package, but if it is expired, we cannot use it. If the produce does not look good, we cannot use it. Part of our job is educating our retailers on what can be used on food shelves.
Bountiful Basket has adopted the policy of “If you would not purchase it yourself, we do not put it on the shelf.” We want to guarantee a dignified shopping experience for all our families who enter our doors. And, because we know that food waste is a national concern, we go by the USDA guidelines for food safety in lieu of “best by dates” as the food is still safe and fresh to eat well past that date.
Are there any types of food we look for?
Part of the perception of food shelves is that you can go and get canned goods and Mac and Cheese. Today, we really have a focus on a variety, providing ingredients for nutritious, healthy meals. We want fresh vegetables, fruits, protein, and meats. We are always looking for fresh dairy and eggs. We like to have the food rescued and distributed in the same community. For example, when Bountiful Basket in Chaska does food rescue from the Target in Chaska, they will distribute that food. It helps keep it fresh and serves those in their community. In addition, we also have a focus in culturally appropriate food. To welcome the Latino community, Bountiful Basket hosts a special evening on Thursdays with Spanish-speaking volunteers in addition to having a variety of other ethnic foods available weekly.
Lastly, Karla and I not only discussed how much food is thrown out nationally but also, just in our own household. Here are some tips everyone can use to be mindful and throw out less food:
- Do meal planning and only buy what you need for those meals.
- Shop real time instead for the week or 2 weeks worth of groceries.
- Note there is a difference between expired, sell by and use by.
Thank you to Karla Bauer, Food Rescue Lead at Second Harvest Heartland and Patti Sinykin, Executive Director, Bountiful Basket Food Shelf for their time and their expertise.