Food rescue, also called food recovery or food salvage, is the practice of gleaning edible food that would otherwise go to waste from places such as restaurants, grocery stores, produce markets, or dining facilities and distributing it to local emergency food programs.
The recovered food is edible, but often not saleable. Products that are at or past their "sell by" dates or are imperfect in any way – a bruised apple or day-old bread – are donated by grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, and farmers markets. Other times, the food is unblemished, but restaurants may have made or ordered too much, or may have edible pieces of food (such as scraps of fish or meat) that are byproducts of the process of preparing foods to cook and serve. In addition, food manufacturers may donate product that marginally fails quality control or that has become short-dated.
In most cases, the rescued food is being saved from being thrown into a dumpster and, ultimately, landfills or other garbage disposal. Food recovered on farms is kept from being plowed under. On farms, the donations often must be harvested, or gleaned, by volunteers.
In the United States, businesses that source food rescue programs have received tax benefits for their donations and have been protected from liability lawsuits by the federal Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act since 1996.
The benefit of many food rescue programs is they offer healthy food to those in need but who may not meet the application requirements of state food-assistance programs. Many programs also provide immediate emergency assistance, without having to wait through an application process. Food rescue organizations are less restricted by cost and availability of food, as so much edible food is thrown out and free for the taking, so eligibility requirements are generally unnecessary. This organizational model often allows food rescues to provide nutritional assistance more quickly, flexibly, and accessibly than other types of hunger relief programs.
In America, numerous food rescue organizations pick up and deliver food in refrigerated trucks. Most are members of Feeding America, formerly America's Second Harvest. Recipient agencies serve people of low and no income.
In Chicago, foodrescue.io runs the largest food rescue program for prepared and perishable foods. They coordinate the rescue of fresh and prepared food from restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias and caterers that reaches more than 80 nonprofits around the Chicago area. Initially, it focused on making local connections between excess food and the need at nonprofits. As of 2015, the food from downtown and wealthy neighborhoods is also reaching neighborhoods in the South side and the West side that are designated as food deserts.
Second Helpings, Inc., founded in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1998, addresses four problems—food waste, hunger, job training, and sourcing skilled labor for the local food service industry. Each day Second Helpings volunteers and staff rescue, prepare, and distribute 3,500 hot, nutritious meals to 70 social service agencies. As of July 2013, more than 500 adults have graduated from the Second Helpings Culinary Job Training program which trains disadvantaged adults for careers in the food service industry as cooks, executive chefs, business owners and culinary instructors.
Food Rescue, founded in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2007, is an independent nonprofit which brings together more than 500 volunteers who donate 90 minutes of their time once a month to rescue unserved restaurant food and deliver it to local food pantries. Food Rescue has salvaged an estimated retail value of $1 million annually. The growing organization has chapters in Indianapolis, Greenwood, and Muncie, Indiana; Greenville, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Ft. Worth, Texas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; St. Paul, Minnesota; Naples, New York; and Fredericksburg, Norfolk, and Reston, Virginia.
The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, founded in North Carolina in 1989, reached a distribution level of 5 million pounds (2,300 tonnes) annually as of 2007. They distribute to about 200 programs, including shelters, soup kitchens, pantries, and housing authority neighborhoods. Volunteers prepare grocery bags of fresh fruits, vegetables and breads to deliver door-to-door to seniors on fixed incomes and low-income single parent households.
Some food rescue organizations specialize in surplus produce, which is more difficult to distribute than many prepared foods due to its short shelf life. One such organization is Fair Foods, which has been distributing surplus produce to the Boston area since 1988, distributing over 6,000 pounds of fresh food daily. With a mission of keeping everyone in Boston full and healthy, Fair Foods distributes mixed bags of produce at over 20 sites in the Boston metro area.
Some organizations, like Waste No Food, use technology to notify charities where and when excess food is available to aid in their food recovery efforts.
In Australia, OzHarvest was launched in November 2004.
Some organizations, such as Fareshare in England, work directly with food manufacturers to minimize food wastage. In 2005 2,000 tonnes of food was saved from being wasted, This food was then redistributed to a community food network of 300 organizations. This food contributed to over 3.3 million meals to 12,000 disadvantaged people each day in 34 cities and towns across the UK.
Food rescue charities outside the United States include Israel's Leket Israel-The National Food Bank
New Zealand's first food rescue organisation is Kaibosh. Operating in Wellington, it was founded in August, 2008. FoodShare, provides food rescue for the city of Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand commenced operations in March 2012. Fairfood and KiwiHarvest operate in Auckland, and other organisations work in Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North, and Christchurch.
- Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act
- Inter-Faith Food Shuttle
- Fair Foods
- Fair Foods Two Dollar a Bag program
- The Society of St. Andrew
- About FareShare
- "Food rescue project details". Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- Food Not Bombs
- Second Harvest Toronto
- Second Helpings
- Food Rescue
- Fair Foods
- City Harvest
- D.C. Central Kitchen
- Hands For Hunger - a Bahamian food rescue program, which has provided more than half a million meals to hungry members of the New Providence community of Nassau, Bahamas since 2008.
- University of Puget Sound Food Salvage Program - A student-run Food Salvage program operating since 1999.
- Food Not Bombs