During the question and answer time of a presentation I was making recently I was asked the question that most people wonder before they start rescuing food. “What kinds of food will we be rescuing?” In other words, potential food rescuers want to know “why is there so much waste” and “what will I actually be transferring.”
It takes a lot of different types of waste to get to the 25% to 40% of all the food Americans have access to that is wasted, but here are just a few categories that make up the majority of what a Community Plates food runner is most likely to rescue:
1. Surplus Food– The restauranteurs that we serve do their best to keep waste down but some waste is unavoidable. Our markets and grocers place a premium (because their shoppers demand it) on always having completely stocked shelves. A new shipment is coming in tomorrow and the “old” food has to come off the shelf, even if it’s not really all that old. Over-preparation and over-stocking is necessary then to ensure they provide the best customer service and the result is lots of potential waste. Much of the food that we rescue is not flawed in any way but is simply surplus.
2. Slightly Bruised or Slightly Damaged Food or Packaging– Not only do we want fully stocked shelves but the food has to look a certain way too. Grocers are constantly removing from their shelves fruits, vegetables, boxes and cans that are in “almost” perfect shape. The apple at your house with the small bruise that you would just cut off and eat is the apple that the grocer can’t sell. Much of the food that we rescue is “just about” flawless.
3. Expiring Food– Some foods are deemed to be expiring because they are approaching ripe and sometimes there are actual “sell by” or “expiration” dates approaching. None of these things mean the food is bad or even close to bad. Sell by and expiration dates are almost always related to food quality (usually with a very high standard attached) and almost never to food safety. Much of the food we rescue is going bad by a printed date only.
The extremely high standards Americans demand of the food-service organizations who serve them provide a real opportunity for the 50 million of us who can’t provide the amount of food or quality of food necessary for healthy living. Access to surplus, slightly damaged and expiring foods mean that none of the 1 in 7 children in the U.S. currently going hungry have to continue to do so.
There are other food rescue opportunities that arise but these three categories cover most of the food that a Community Plates food runner will get the chance to rescue. After a few food rescues most people go from asking the “what kind of food will we rescue” question to amazement at the amount of food that would have been potentially wasted but instead they are able to transfer to feed the hungry.
Food For All.