Tackling the Problem of Food Waste - Maryland Food Bank
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Tackling the Problem of Food Waste

March 18, 2015

With the gradual shift toward conscious, sustainable treatment of food in our society, reducing food waste has become a focal point for legislators, scholars, and advocates alike. It’s a shame that so much food goes to waste when so many are hungry, but the Maryland Food Bank has built fighting this problem into the way we work. Find out how we make the best of an inefficient food system.

When most people hear about the Maryland Food Bank, they associate us with hunger, food drives, and soup kitchens. What many don’t realize is that minimizing food waste is inextricably woven into our operations—and our mission to end hunger.

At the core of our infrastructure, the Maryland Food Bank collects and distributes food. Food drives and donations are the most public way that we receive food, but behind the scenes, the food bank has an even larger source of food, called salvage.

When retail food is no longer salable but still safe for consumption by FDA standards, it can be donated to food banks as salvage. Over 35 years, the Maryland Food Bank has developed an extensive web of food retailers and wholesalers and salvaged millions upon millions of pounds of nutritious, high-quality foods that would have otherwise gone to waste—and distributed them to hungry households all across the state.

This is a symbiotic relationship at its best, made possible by close, daily communication with our salvage-providing partners; MFB sends trucks to pick up food on a weekly basis and, at times, on the drop of a dime. Once received, all nonperishable salvage is checked for damage and expiration dates and then sorted by volunteers before its ready for distribution to hungry communities. A key facet of our salvage operation is our retail rescue program, which focuses primarily on recovering meat—a critical component of our product mix—that would otherwise be thrown out.

Handling meat, of course, requires careful treatment of the product, from the shelves of our providers to the tables of our clients, and the Maryland Food Bank is well-versed in FDA guidelines. To ensure that we are serving our clients quality meats, we pick them up from our partners—Giant, for instance, who donated more than 350,000 pounds of unsellable meat—then freeze them immediately upon arrival at our warehouse. With this treatment, the frozen meat is safe for consumption up to six months past the original sell-by date, according to the USDA.

In addition to our salvage operations, the Maryland Food Bank’s Farm to Food Bank Program provides an innovative way for us to rescue ripe fruits and vegetables from local farms and get them to our clients quickly. During the growing season, our network of 70 partner farms reach out to us whenever there is an opportunity to collect excess produce or glean fields that have already been harvested. Last year, with the help of volunteers and our trusty transportation fleet, the food bank collected and distributed more than 4.6 million pounds of fresh Maryland produce that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Through these various channels, the Maryland Food Bank is able to decrease the amount of high-quality food headed to the landfills, while simultaneously increasing our distribution and providing more for our clients.

If it sounds like a win-win, that’s because it is.

14 thoughts on “Tackling the Problem of Food Waste

  1. We have expired food cans at my dads home in Dundalk md. Can someone picked. Them up at his home if they are boxed up

    1. Arlene –

      I am happy to help you get the canned goods out of your Dad’s garage and into the hands of food-insecure Marylander.

      Even expired canned foods can be useful donations, as long as they are not home-canned products. The labels should be intact and the cans should not be swollen, badly dented, or structurally compromised.

      Rather than getting them to our Baltimore warehouse and then distributed to a local pantry, I believe reaching out to one of our local Dundalk partners would be the best way to help your hungry neighbors in need.

      Feel free to contact me directly if you need further assistance, and thank you for your donation!

      Ben

    1. Hi Arnica,
      Yes, we do accept expired canned foods, as long as it is not a home-canned product. The label should be intact and the can should not be swollen, badly dented, or structurally compromised.

      Thanks for your question.

  2. I have a few cans of formula that just expired. Are they still ok to donate to a food bank? I donated my time at the MD Food Bank once and I think we were able to keep a few things past their expiration date… or am I mistaken. Could you please let me know if these are donatable of if I should just pitch them.

    1. Hi Flavia, thanks so much for reaching out! As you can imagine, baby formula is a very valued item at the food bank. Unfortunately, we legally can not distribute expired baby formula. You are right that in some cases expiration dates do not pose a threat to food safety or violate USDA regulations—and we do happily accept these donations. Baby formula is actually one of very few items that has regulations on date coding.

      Thanks for thinking of us and for your continued support!

    1. Joseph, we really appreciate you wanting to get involved in this! Currently, the vast majority of retailers that provide us with salvage are only allowed to hand food over to agencies in the Maryland Food Bank network. Feel free to reach out to our food sourcing manager for more details on this.

  3. I’m so enthused that we can save so much food from the land fills and help so many in need, My church has a food bank that possibly can be extended in its help by using the salvaging method. Thank you for your good work. Flo–

  4. What can be done to salvage cooked food from buffets/cafeterias, such as Old Country Buffet, Wegman’s, Osaka Grill & Buffet, Golden Corral, etc.? They must throw out huge amounts of food at the end of the evening. Same with cooked foods and salad bars at supermarkets. The usual excuse is, liability. Isn’t there a Good Samaritan law in Maryland?

    1. Richard, Maryland does have a Good Samaritan Law. And as you can see from the above response to Bernie, we do make an effort to get leftover food safely to our clients whenever we have the opportunity. Currently we deal with it on a case by case basis, but we are actively working on new ways to salvage prepared foods on a larger, more comprehensive scale.

  5. Do you also collect leftover prepared foods? My mother is in an assisted living facility and I image their food waste is pretty huge.

    1. Hi Bernie! Thanks for reaching out to us with your thoughts! Depending on the circumstances, the Maryland Food Bank does, on occasion, collect leftover prepared foods. Food safety, timing, quantity, and location all play a part in this equation.

      More frequently, rather than sending a driver all the way out to a site to collect leftover prepared food, our food sourcing manager will coordinate with the site supervisor to help them locate and connect with one of our partners in the area. We partner with nearly 1,000 soup kitchens, shelters, pantries, and schools across the state, and it’s never too difficult to find a partner nearby who would happily make good use of extra food!

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