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National Restaurant Association - Surplus to service: Food donation basics

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Surplus to service: Food donation basics

Many restaurant operators hate to throw away good food when they know thousands of people go hungry every day. But they don’t know always know how to get their surplus food to charitable organizations that feed the hungry.

National Restaurant Association partner Food Donation Connection offers services to help link restaurants with charitable organizations, as well as tips for donating food. Here are a few:

  • Make sure food is safe, nutritious and wholesome – something you would eat. Typically, restaurants donate prepared food, rather than raw ingredients. Prepared food donations garner greater tax deductions than raw ingredients.
  • Follow food safety practices for food handling, preparation, cooking, cooling and storing. See servsafe.com for more information.
  • Allow food to cool properly before donating it. That prevents prepared food from falling into the danger zone after it’s out of your control. FDC donor restaurants package and freeze surplus food, then store it in a freezer. Local charities then pick up the frozen food from the restaurants.  
  • Don’t worry about donating complete meals. Chefs at homeless shelters and other organizations that feed the hungry create meals from donated proteins, vegetables, starches and desserts. They enhance their offerings with donated soups, sauces and other items from restaurants.
  • Jim Larson, program development director, Food Donation Connection, shares a story from a recent visit to an Atlanta church that serves the homeless. The lunch menu included a macaroni-based meal with meat from a local steakhouse. “While serving water, I overheard someone comment with delight about the meat,” he says. “In the case of someone who has so little, even a small quantity of meat makes a big difference.”
  • Look for opportunities to reduce waste. Follow food from the rear of the restaurant to the service window. In the back-of –house, you might find unopened cases of product that doesn’t meet your specs but can’t be returned. Or, you might have thawed product that wasn’t served and can’t be re-frozen as is. Other food that can be donated includes excess cooked food at the end of a shift or plated meals, mis-cooks and other food that hasn’t left the serving window. Prepared food can be donated if it hasn’t been served.

With so many people in your community who can benefit from your generosity, it’s important to safely handle your surplus food donations. Those donations can make the day of someone who could become a future customer.

This content was provided by National Restaurant Association partner Food Donation Connection.

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