This is a time of year when we think about doing good and helping those less fortunate. Donating food to feed the hungry can also do good by diverting waste from landfills, the National Restaurant points out. It helps feed the hungry, offers tax credits to restaurateurs who donate to nonprofit organizations and protects the environment, says Laura Abshire, director of sustainability and government policy, National Restaurant Association.
“By reducing food waste, restaurateurs can save on their operating costs,” she says. “Companies participating in food donation programs are eligible to receive tax credits. That makes food donation a financially sound business decision. Reducing food waste is not only good business, but also helps the environment and the communities we serve.”
Jim Larson, founder and director of the Food Donation Connection, an NRA partner that acts as a liaison between restaurants and social agencies to arrange food deliveries to people in need, offers five tips for food donation:
*Follow safe food handling practices. Develop a process for your restaurant. FDC has some time and temperature standards, but it customizes them for each donor and works with them to see what makes the most sense. “We only accept food that’s never been served,” he says. If it’s left the kitchen, don’t donate it. Usually, that food was a mistake or was hot-held beyond the hold time. That doesn’t mean the food is bad, but it probably doesn’t meet the standards for your customers.
*Familiarize yourself with your food surplus. Most operators think they don’t have enough volume, but it doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference, Larson says. That’s what leaders at Chipotle thought when the company began working with FDC in 2007. When FDC representatives toured four Chipotle stores, they explained the company could donate small quantities of meat, beans and rice from multiple locations, rather than large quantities from one site.
*Develop a pilot test. Chains looking to donate food should test their donation program in a handful of stores before rolling it out system-wide. After developing your process, test it for about 60 days, Larson advises.
Connect with a local nonprofit to take your donation.
*If you’re going to take the tax credit, you must partner with non-profit organizations registered as 501(c) 3. If you’re working with FDC, it can find a nearby organization that can pick up your food. Consider donating to local schools or fire departments, as well, Larson suggests. “That’s great community relations work, but typically you would not be able to take an enhanced tax deduction for those donations.”
*Track your donations. FDC sends monthly reports to donors so they can see what was donated by item, location and region. They can look at it in terms of pounds of food, fair market value or cost. Tracking is also important in case of a product recall, especially for retailers. “By tracking the products, we’re able to see if they’ve been donated and from what store to what charity,” Larson says. “This gives us better control to make sure [potentially tainted product] is not consumed by anyone.”
*Make donation part of your company culture.
Donating surplus food is good for employee morale, says Larson, whose organization has helped facilitate the collection of more than 210 million pounds of food to nonprofit hunger-relief charities. “Someone, like a chef, who has a passion for creating food for people, hates throwing food away,” he says. “You don’t want to create something to just throw it out. So much was invested in it. It was planted, harvested and transported – only to be thrown away. It’s kind of a crime.”