The Next Frontier in Food Donation
Have you ever enjoyed a catered meal or sat at a restaurant and wondered what happens to the food that businesses prepare, but don’t sell? We have.
According to Feeding America and ReFED, 40 percent of food waste in the U.S. comes from consumer-facing businesses (grocery retailers and distributors, restaurants, catering companies, etc...) That’s why securing donations of prepared foods on a large scale is the next frontier in eliminating hunger while taking care of our resources.
“The positive environmental impacts of food recovery – rescuing good food that would otherwise go to waste – are quite extraordinary,” notes Nicola Dixon, Associate Director, General Mills Foundation. “When surplus food gets sent to landfills, that food matter emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so even making modest reductions in societal food waste can yield strong improvements in lowering greenhouses gas levels, which is critical for achieving a healthy and sustainable climate.”
Dianne Wortz, one of our Agency Relations Account Specialists, works with several meal programs in the Twin Cities area. Currently, she’s helping coordinate a prepared food recovery pilot project with the Hyatt Regency, a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Nearly every day, the hotel caters one or more on-site events.
As part of the project, when the hotel has extra food from its daily catering events staff members now contact Loaves and Fishes, a local meal program, to coordinate a donation pick-up. Loaves and Fishes uses the food in meals prepared for our hungry neighbors.
“I think there’s a ton of opportunity to do more formalized prepared food rescue in our region, especially if Second Harvest Heartland can help facilitate it,” said Dianne. “Many of our agency partners have staff limitations, and some have experienced funding cuts. Prepared food rescue is an opportunity for these agencies to receive high-quality, ready-to-eat food for their clients—some of the food is even made from scratch.”
Dianne notes that receiving prepared foods also saves time for kitchen staff in nonprofit meal programs. The pre-cooked foods can often be used in multiple ways to create salads, soups and a variety of hot dishes.
To bring prepared food donation opportunities to scale, we’re also considering how technology plays a role. Through, the new MealConnect™ program, a technology platform made possible through a grant General Mills, food donors can connect to local food banks and their partners to arrange for food pickups, track donations and record receipts.
Second Harvest Heartland plans to promote MealConnect™ to prepared food donors and agencies in need of prepared food donations. Because prepared foods require additional food handling and temperature safeguards, specialized training will be provided to partners on their respective roles.
“MealConnect™ will keep the donation process flowing quickly,” said Dianne. Currently, when companies have special donation opportunities, staff must call on several agencies to see which might be able to accept the food. They must also take great care to correctly convey all of the details regarding timing, food quantities and locations. MealConnect™ will bring accuracy and efficiency to this process.
In fact, this technology will bring efficiency to a full range of food donations, including those made by corner grocers, corporate and hospital cafeterias, small cafes, restaurants and other businesses. It allows for successful donation of any kind of eligible food, including raw ingredients and whole foods, to partially or fully prepared meals.
“In MealConnect, we see an extraordinary opportunity to make it easy for local food businesses to the ‘do the right thing’ – to donate their surplus food to area nonprofits who help feed our hungry neighbors, rather than allowing that excess food to go to the local landfill,” said Dixon.
While this is a new endeavor that will present challenges, Dianne notes, “We have the framework in place.” Second Harvest Heartland’s successful Retail Food Rescue Program provides the required staff, transportation and logistical support required to bring a prepared food rescue initiative to large scale. “Second Harvest Heartland is looking forward to assisting agencies of every size to take advantage of the prepared food that is available for donation, but is currently going to waste. From large to small, there’s a place for every size meal program to participate.”
As the prepared food rescue pilot changes and expands, we will continue to share about our stories and partnerships. In the meantime, you can learn more about our other food rescue efforts through programs like Share Fresh, our local agricultural surplus rescue program, and Retail Food Rescue.