Each month Seattle food service businesses dispose of more than 1,000 tons of edible food. Meanwhile, according to the USDA, Washington has the 9th highest level of hunger in the nation, and 39% of people served by Washington food banks are children.
Rather than paying to have surplus food hauled away, many businesses have discovered they can safely donate it to feed Seattle's hungry.
Donating Surplus Food is Legal and Safe
Donors who provide food in good faith are protected by both State and Federal Good Samaritan laws designed to encourage donation of needed foods and protect donors.
The Washington Good Samaritan law (RCW 69.80.031) and the Federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (PL104-210 (pdf)) both state you cannot be held liable if you donate food you believe to be safe and edible.
Food banks protect their donors by offering a variety of liability protections, including: strict standards of warehouse operation, proper storage and handling procedures, complete product tracking and recall capabilities, accurate and timely receipting.
For details on the Washington State Dept of Health's food donation policies, see Guidelines for Charity Food Donations.
Q: Can we donate packaged foods that do not need refrigeration?
A: Yes! The donation of commercially canned, boxed, and otherwise packaged foods is encouraged.
Q: What about fresh produce?
A: All fresh produce is suitable for donation, including home-grown fruits and vegetables!
Q: Can licensed food establishments donate menu or deli items?
A: Because they have commercial-grade equipment, licensed food establishments may donate surplus menu and deli items prepared and handled with the same consideration for safety as food sold to customers.
Q: What about perishable foods past the "sell by" date?
A: Perishable foods past the original manufacturer's "sell by" (or "best if used by") date can be donated, but not foods past a "use by" date.
Q: Can food processors donate?
A: Food processors are encouraged to donate foods that may not meet their specifications for reasons that do not affect food safety, such as package printing errors.
Q: What foods are not suitable for donation?
A: Certain foods are not suitable for donation because of safety concerns. These foods include:
- Home canned, vacuum-packed or pickled foods
- Perishable foods past a "use by" date, unless frozen
- Foods in soiled containers, in sharply dented or rusty cans, or in opened or torn containers
- Unpasteurized milk
- Foods with an "off" odor; Spoiled foods; Foods that have been temperature abused
- Foods prepared, cooked, cooled, or reheated at home (except for baked goods)
For more information about donating surplus food, contact the SPU Green Business Program at (206) 343-8505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donating Surplus Food is Easy
The Green Business Program will link you with food rescue agencies that follow the same stringent safe food handling guidelines as your staff. For more information, visit the Seattle Hunger Map, a website designed to provide linkages between local businesses and hunger agencies, food banks and meal programs accepting donations.
On the map, red markers indicate food banks and green markers indicate meal programs. To find hunger agencies near you, use the toolbar on the left to zoom to the appropriate neighborhood. Click on the map markers to bring up detailed information about each agency. In the left sidebar, the Seattle Hunger Map also has links to more information about food donation.
For more information about using surplus food, check out the EPA’s guide to food service providers - Putting Surplus Food to Good Use (pdf).