Tackling the Problem of Food Waste
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.
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