Why Congress should pass the Food Donation Improvement Act

July 22, 2022

Recovered food is sourced from countless businesses, and is donated for equally as many reasons. Some food comes from the excess that is produced intentionally to cover customer satisfaction in the event of an exchange or return. Other food items get caught in traffic during transit and arrive too late for grocers to meet the “sell-by” date. What is common across the country and throughout the entire food industry is the immense amount of food that never makes it to people’s dinner plates. 

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed in 1996 to shield food donors from criminal and civil liability, and as a result, encourage more food donations. The burden of food safety is transferred to the nonprofits and organizations receiving the food, and businesses are free to decide what food they donate. 

It seems counterintuitive, but the Act is regularly cited by businesses as the reason they choose not to donate food. Something has to change when the Act that is meant to protect donors becomes a confusing and discouraging hurdle. 

This is where the new, proposed Food Donation Improvement Act comes into play. It would update the 1996 Act, making it easier for people to donate food and to feel more comfortable with the process. The current Act does not have a specific agency in charge of clarifying the details, nor does it explicitly address many of the common circumstances in which a business or farm might donate food. Many business owners find the vague language concerning, and don’t have an immediate or official source of guidance.

The update would require the USDA to release regulations clarifying the protections that exist, the businesses and agencies that can donate, and which businesses (nonprofits, schools, food banks, etc.) they can donate food to. 

In addition to the clarification, it would also extend liability protection to food businesses and farms that want to donate food directly to people in need without going through a registered nonprofit. A restaurant shut down by the pandemic that wants to serve community meals would be protected, as would a school that wants to send surplus food from meal programs home with low-income families. Finally, it would also cover organizations and companies that want to take surplus food and sell it at a very low cost—such as nonprofit grocery stores that accept donations.

The response to the Food Donation Improvement Act has been overwhelmingly positive from lawmakers and policy experts, with the sentiment being that making food donation easier is just common sense. It is a straightforward way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a national scale and will increase food access as well. 

And while activists acknowledge that the bill alone will not solve hunger, it represents an important step in reducing food insecurity and protecting the environment. Chef and advocate Tom Colicchio also argues that preventing food waste is a matter of showing respect for the food that nourishes eaters and the workers who produce it. By wasting food, he says, “we’re devaluing not just the food, but we’re devaluing the people who are responsible for feeding us.”

We Don’t Waste has signed the petition in support of this act, as it directly aligns with our goal of using food recovery and distribution as a means to support our environment and increase food access in our communities. To learn more and support this initiative, sign the petition here.