The next time you’re in your favorite restaurant, ask your server what they do with excess and surplus food. You might be surprised by the answer — or you might not, if your restaurant is participating in a program called Food Recovery Certified. The program aims to “reward businesses for doing the right thing” by creating a certification program for restaurants that donate their edible excess food to food banks and other charities that feed the hungry. Those who meet the standard get to display a sticker indicating that they’re participants, which is great public relations, but also a fantastic conversation starter.
Daily, Americans throw out 40 percent of their perfectly edible food, thanks to an incredibly inefficient food system. Food waste occurs at all levels of the supply chain, from destruction of edible but slightly funny-looking produce on farms to waste in transit and in grocery stores to the decision to chuck something in the trash at home. In sharp contrast to this profligate waste, one in six American households experience food insecurity.
Attempts at eliminating waste and bridging the gap have tackled the issue from a number of perspectives. Individual consumers are being encouraged to buy wisely, compost instead of trashing food they absolutely can’t eat, and consider trading with other consumers. A program in Germany highlights food waste through dumpster diving, with participants posting information about their finds in a massive food swap meet powered by the internet.
However, one of the biggest offenders when it comes to food waste isn’t individuals, but restaurants and institutions, because of their much larger operational scale. And as all of us who like to dine out know, restaurants have to walk a tight rope when it comes to ordering food — no one wants to run out of a hot item, while at the same time, excess food represents a costly waste. Even when restaurants balance their orders, though, inevitably they end up with surplus food. So, where does it go?
A growing number of consumers want to see it going to food banks and other charities for people in need, rather than into the garbage, because this would address the environmental problems associated with food waste and help fight hunger. It’s part of a larger push towards corporate responsibility and demands that businesses interact with their communities and create a strong framework for community health and wellbeing. Some restaurants are starting to clue in and work on their own scaled food donation programs, but certification offers a number of advantages.
For one thing, customers can be assured that a restaurant is actually following through on its claims, because it’s handled by a third party. For another, the certification can be used as an advertisement, public relations and public awareness campaign — a restaurant can pressure competitors to show that they’re doing the right thing too, and improve the integrity of the industry overall. Certification also creates clear standards for handling food waste so restaurants can work more comfortably with food banks and other recipients to ensure they adhere with the law, address liability issues and build strong relationships in their communities. The bar is set pretty low in this case, with restaurants only needing to recover food once a month to qualify, but it’s a good start.
The next time you spot a Food Recovery Certified sign in a window, pop in to let the manager know you support their efforts to help their community and the environment. And if your favorite greasy spoon, white table restaurant, or cafe doesn’t have one…well…ask them why not!
Photo credit: Nick Saltmarsh.