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National Restaurant Association - Where does your food go, donation or down the drain?

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Where does your food go, donation or down the drain?

Increasing food donations to charitable organizations is one of the best ways restaurants can divert material from landfills, according to a new study on food waste.

The report, the third conducted by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and commissioned by the National Restaurant Association, looked at the challenges nearly 600 restaurants in Durham, N.C., face as they try to cut waste, including the barriers that prevent many restaurants from composting and recycling.

This year’s study looked at steps the city of Durham, N.C. and the Association could take to increase interest in food donation programs among restaurateurs. Previous studies looked at how operators could achieve zero waste at their facilities as well as conduct on-premise organic composting.

According to the study, restaurants in Durham are responsible for 50 percent of the 16,000 tons of commercial food waste produced by the city annually. At the same time, nearly 20 percent of its residents suffer from food insecurity or hunger.

“Food waste is a significant concern,” said Jeff Clark, director of the NRA’s Conserve sustainability program. “Between 25 percent and 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes to landfills every year. At the same time, millions of people face food insecurity every day.”

The Duke University study determined that restaurants tend not to donate surplus food because of:

  • A lack of awareness regarding food waste and food donation, including where and how to participate, and the benefits.
  • Transaction costs, including staff time to arrange donations and costs related to storage and transportation.
  • Confusion about food safety and fear of liability and bad publicity.
  • A lack of relationships, trust and communication with food donation recipients.

Clark noted that many restaurants donating surplus food to the hungry are eligible for enhanced tax deductions and federal liability protection under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act.

Laura Abshire, the NRA’s director of sustainability and government policy, said the Association is working to help educate restaurateurs better understand the issue of food waste and how they can help reduce it.

Abshire, who also co-chairs the Food Waste Reduction Alliance in Washington, D.C., noted that the NRA has partnered with the Food Donation Connection to increase food donation by restaurants. The organization pairs up restaurants with social agencies to provide food deliveries to people.

“It is important that operators understand that reducing food waste doesn’t have to be daunting or difficult,” she said. “Businesses that donate safe, edible food to food banks and divert that material from the waste stream make a positive impact financially, socially and environmentally across the country.”

Visit the Conserve website to learn more about sustainability in the restaurant industry. Watch this best practices video on food donation for more tips, tools and information.

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