Commercial Food Waste

Here’s a new waste-related term for you - ‘food recovery.’ No, it’s not soothing indigestion after a big meal, it refers to capturing usable food ‘waste’ to feed people, rather than landfilling it.

The largest source of this type of food comes from commercial venues - food distribution warehouses, grocery stores and hotels. There are three basic types of commercial food waste, each with its own unique food recovery challenges:

1) Non-perishable food items – easy, peasy. These are dry, boxed or canned goods that are not saleable for various reasons - expired promotional packaging, close to, or expired best before dates, or damaged packaging (ye old dented can).

This is what Food Banks handle best. These goods are not messy to handle or terribly time sensitive to transport. In Saskatoon, virtually all grocery stores have a relationship with the local food bank and donate their unsaleable, non-perishable groceries. Very little of this type is finding its way into the waste stream.

2) Perishable food - mainly blemished or aging produce - not so easy. There are two levels at which this is an issue. One is at the food warehouse or packaging center level, where veggies are processed and packaged by the tonne. There is much perfectly good produce – perhaps blemished, overstocked or overripe – that they cannot use. This food is generally of a quality that could be redistributed. The main problem: volume. These high volume distribution centers deal with undesirable produce by the truck load -- much more than a single local food bank could handle.

 The most ideal scenario is to have unwanted produce picked up by a charitable organization equipped with refrigerated trucks. In other provinces - or at least larger centers - there are organizations that do just this. They then distribute it to food banks and other charitable organizations. Examples include Winnipeg Harvest, or Feed Nova Scotia.

Saskatchewan distinctly lacks an organization such as this. And, given that neither major center in the province has a commercial composting service either, most distribution centres find it easiest to load unwanted produce into a garbage bin.

produce-in-storeGrocery stores create produce waste on a slightly smaller scale. Unique to them is the fact that produce is often going bad by the time they are getting rid of it, not just blemished or misshapen. With very few commercial composting services in our province, composting is rarely an option. On occasion, a small store might make a relationship with a small farmer, and aging produce gets picked up to feed chickens or pigs. But again…most of it hits the trash can as this is the most convenient, or only available, option.

3) Prepared leftovers - if you thought produce was tricky…it gets trickier. This includes food from cafeteria buffets, buffet restaurants, hotel catering banquets, etc. Prepared food containing meat or dairy cannot sit at room temperature for more than two hours before it is considered unsafe. If it makes it to cold storage before then, fine, but if not, it is not suitable to donate.

There is plenty of appetite for leftovers at drop-in centers, and plenty of leftovers to be had, but getting them from A to B in a timely and cost-effective manner seems to be a common barrier. Some organizations have managed to make it work, such as Second Harvest in Toronto.

You are right in thinking that donors would want protection against being sued if someone became sick from their food. Good Samaritan laws exist in every province regarding the donation of food. They protect donors from liability, so long as certain food safety guidelines are met.

In Saskatchewan, commercial food waste is still a problem (or is that an opportunity?).

[Source: October 2013 WasteWatch ]