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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Food Waste Reduction in Foodservice Distribution Channels

After reading Jonathan Bloom's American Wasteland, the August, 2012 NRDC Wasted Food Food Issue Paper  and other related articles, it is clear the root of global hunger is grounded in waste, not lack of supply.  One of the avenues rarely seen by the public eye is the food waste inherent in produce distribution systems.  Due to quality standards, a staggering amount of food suitable for human consumption within the farm to foodservice channels goes to animal feed, compost or the landfill .

For food waste, the U.S. EPA published the food hierarchy where feeding humans is only second to source reduction and followed by animal feed.  Following the EPA hierarchy the Zero Waste Zones Criteria requires the Participant to donate food in accordance with the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act first and compost remaining food along with kitchen scraps.

ZWZ Participant FreshPoint, a national produce distributor to the foodservice industry, sends approximately 100 -110 tons of food waste per month to composting.  Of the food waste going to compost, an estimated 40% is edible yet not salable within FreshPoint's quality standards.  Comprised of scraps from their on-site cut shop along with cases of unsalable produce, the edible food in general requires further preparation before ready for human consumption.  

Committed to moving the destination of their approximately 500 tons per year of edible, unsalable food to human consumption, FreshPoint and Elemental Impact are exploring a donation program.  With tax benefits from donating the food, rather than sending for composting, there is strong potential to develop a program that improves the bottom line.
FreshPoint food waste
awaiting compost collection

The FreshPoint scenario epitomizes a common Ei refrain, "If it was easy, it would already be done."  With the exploration begun in 2010, potential program partners and challenges are identified as follows:
  • Food Safety - Georgia Tech Research Institute Food Processing Technology Division is interested in developing a laser scanning system to detect harmful bacteria on the food identified for donation.
  • Common Kitchen Destination - FreshPoint can easily delivery the identified food within hours to a local kitchen facility for preparation into meals.  Due to the significant quantity, a substantial kitchen is required. The kitchen must meet the Food Donation Act criteria for the donations to qualify for a tax deduction.
  • Culinary Expertise - complicated logistics and immediate action require a top-level chef to orchestrate the food deliveries, menu planning, preparation, and communication to local shelters for available food.  Most food delivered to the kitchen must be prepared into meals within 12 to 24 hours.  Another challenge is the inconsistency of quantity and type of food each day.  The American Culinary Federation - Atlanta Chapter attended the 2010 meetings.
  • Food Shelter Delivery Logistics - a flexible, fluid system must be established to collect prepared meals from the common kitchen for delivery to shelters with notice given hours prior to meal availability. Second Helpings serves as the shelter delivery system expert.  In 2010, the Atlanta Community Food Bank was toured to determine how the program would complement existing services.
  • Solid Technology Platform - the key to program success is a solid technology program to coordinate and communicate the food trail: 1> inform the Chef of what food will be delivered when along with food shelf life 2> common kitchen inventory system to assist the chef with menu preparation 3> communicate to participating shelters of quantity, type and timing of food availability for pick-up and 4> coordinate pick-up | delivery system for the shelters without their own transportation.
Edible food scraps are inherent
with the tomato slicing in the cut shop
While FreshPoint determines their Atlanta baseline, Ei is reactivating the 2010 players along with bringing new partners on-board to create a formal action team. The goal is to develop the template for a national program. With an estimated 500 tons of edible food available at one regional distribution center for one company, the potential food waste reduction is stupendous. No matter the challenges, the program must be developed.

Within the program development, the goal is to create a job training aspect where food recipients are taught skills necessary for food or other industry employment.  In addition, farmers may choose to donate food that does not meet spec for sale and is often composted on-site or plowed back into the field soil.

Beyond the immediate food donation, the template development is a strong step in creating an evolved global food distribution system where food is honored, widespread hunger is eliminated and dignity is restored to the impoverished population.  It is thrilling to be an active participant in creating the evolved paradigm!


  1. Holly, this is a great article! As you know, sustainable solutions are out there: we must re-think how we look at waste (therein we must re-define what "true waste" really means), and continue to challenge the status quo and think outside of the box. Your visually inverted Sustainability Pyramid is a great tool for educating people from farmers and producers to consumers. I believe that some radical decisions must also be made by the Foodservice Industry as it relates to their gluttonous menu portion sizes and corresponding menu price-points. This would also go a long way to help curb America's severe obesity issue, too.

  2. The recent media buzz highlights how big the issue of food waste is. Thank you Holly for leading the way on solving this issue with depth and creativity.

  3. Please help to end this food waste by sponsoring a new law mandating all edible food from food establishments must be donated to the hungry instead of the current system of tossing it into the rubbish each day.

    1. Note Ei does not take a stand on legislation or other political platforms. Are you familiar the Good Samaritan Food Donation Law? It provides legal protection for food donated within its provisions. T\

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post and comment. Holly