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What the Food Donation Improvement Act Means for Food Recovery

  • Features
February 20, 2023
Written By: Amanda Ruffner

The Food Donation Improvement Act (FDIA) passed in Congress on December 21, 2022. By expanding existing food donation policy, the FDIA strengthens growing efforts to mitigate food waste and redirect surplus food to the millions of people currently experiencing food insecurity in the U.S.

Food Rescue Hero—the technology platform behind Share Food Program’s Philly Food Rescue initiative—hosted a webinar last week about what the FDIA will mean for food recovery efforts across the country. Ultimately, the new legislation includes four main improvements: 1. it assigns ownership of the act to the USDA; 2. protects food donations going directly to people in need; 3. provides liability protection for donors to organizations that charge a small fee for the redistributed meals; and 4. will result in new regulations for quality and labeling standards for donated food.

These changes make it clear to folks on the supply side of our food system that food recovery is a governmentally-sanctioned and necessary endeavor. Overall, the FDIA should make it easier for food producers of all sizes to participate in food recovery, and for organizations beyond nonprofits (e.g. mutual aid groups) to redistribute food.

The 15 organizations making up the Food Rescue Hero partner network were instrumental in shaping and advocating for the FDIA, with the goal of removing barriers for major retailers, small businesses, restaurants and farms to participate in food recovery efforts. In 2022, Philly Food Rescue was responsible for redistributing 5.45 million pounds of food. And according to Food Rescue Hero, “the Food Donation Improvement Act opens up the opportunity for millions more pounds of surplus food to be donated by retailers to people experiencing food insecurity.”

Read on for a more detailed summary of the FDIA, and/or watch the full Food Rescue Hero webinar

The Food Donation Improvement Act assigns responsibility to the USDA

This is important because the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 (the previous iteration of legislation governing food donation) was not owned by any governmental entity. The lack of departmental responsibility for previous food donation legislation meant, according to Food Rescue Hero, that there was nowhere official to refer folks if they were skeptical about the legality of participating in food recovery. Now the USDA will be responsible for standardizing policy related to the FDIA, and will act as the definitive source of information for food producers / suppliers about participating in food recovery.

FDIA protects & allows donors to directly give food to individuals

Previously, if a restaurant, bakery or larger food supplier had a small amount of food left over at the end of the day, they were only legally protected if they donated that food to a “nonprofit organization that distributes that food to needy individuals.” Now, entities are liability-free if they donate directly to people as well, allowing food producers and suppliers to become direct participants in food redistribution for the communities they exist within. And per Food Rescue Hero, these new protections for direct donations will ideally allow food recovery organizations to focus on moving larger, more regular food donations instead of smaller, one-off pickups.

The FDIA also provides liability protection for donations made to organizations that charge a small fee for food

This provision of the FDIA allows people redistributing donated food to charge a small cost (called a “Good Samaritan price”) to cover packaging, the labor of handling rescued food, etc. This is a crucial development for pay-what-you-can restaurants, zero waste kitchens like Pittsburgh’s Good Food Project, mutual aid groups without large budgets and other vital and creative elements of food redistribution networks.

And the act will result in new clarifying regulations on quality and labeling standards for donated food products

Within 6 months of the FDIA being passed (so by June 2023), the Secretary of Agriculture will provide new guidelines to (hopefully) fix the confusing date labeling system that often discourages food donation.