Restaurant Briefing: Trash Talk, Part 2 – Donating Surplus Food

Promote Your Business Restaurant Industry By American Express June 11, 2015

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of food in America is wasted, while one in six people go hungry. A growing number of organizations are making it easy for restaurants of all sizes to donate surplus food, picking it up and delivering it to nonprofit hunger-relief agencies. Some also provide containers and data for tax purposes. Restaurants and recipient agencies are protected against liability under the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 (see footnote). How some are finding it efficient and effective to donate their surplus food:

Chipotle, hq Denver, has been working with Food Donation Connection’s (FDC) Harvest Program since 2007. Danielle Winslow, company spokesperson, reports that approximately 70% of Chipotle locations participate (the number is growing), donating items such as chicken, steak carnitas, sofritas, tomato salsa, corn salsa, brown and white rice, and black and pinto beans. In addition, whole burritos prepared during new store training are donated, plus food from ShopHouse restaurants and Chipotle’s Cultivate Festivals. Founded in 1992 by a former restaurant executive, the FDC links restaurant chains and independents to hunger-relief organizations, providing pans and plastic bags for leftover food. Jim Larson, FDC program development director, says donations are tracked via a web-based program, allowing restaurants to key in donations by item and pounds, calculating tax savings. Funding for the program comes from a monthly fee paid by restaurants, which equals 15% of the tax savings they receive. FDC operates a live call center to coordinate donations from 17,000 foodservice locations to 8,000 local charities.

“Everyone involved – from our crew members to the recipients of the food provided by our partner agencies to the environment – is made better by this program.” –Danielle Winslow, company spokesperson, Chipotle

Zero Percent (Chicago, Minneapolis, and Champaign-Urbana) is an Internet platform using technology to link donors with local nonprofits (food pantries, shelters, after-school programs, youth training programs, etc.). Founded by Rajesh Karmani, Zero Percent is funded by restaurants that pay a monthly fee depending upon the number of pickups and if they choose to receive data to use for tax purposes. There is no cost for nonprofits if their staff or volunteers pick up the donations themselves. Donation deliveries cost 30 cents or less per pound. Raj says they try to match the nonprofits’ food needs to the restaurant’s surplus as much as possible. Participating restaurants text when they have a pick up. Food rescuers, who are trained in food safety, weigh each batch of food they pick up, logging it digitally so restaurants are able to see how much food they’ve donated. Elizabeth Crotty, property manager, Land and Sea Dept. (Cherry Circle Room, Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Lost Lake/Thank You), Chicago, says, “Zero Percent makes it so easy to donate surplus food. And, while we strive not to have leftovers, when we do, we are happy to give them to people who need them. All we have to do is send a text and the food is picked up and delivered directly to a shelter.” At Lost Lake, for example, she says the Tiki Bar uses a lot of orange peel, but not the flesh of the orange. “Using Zero Percent we’re able to donate up to 10 cases of oranges to shelters every week.”

“What we see in many shelters is a lot of packaged and canned food – restaurants take food donations to another level by donating fresh, nutritious food.” –Rajesh Karmani, founder, Zero Percent

Robert Lee, co-founder, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine (RLC) says he and his partner created the nonprofit because “We saw that there was a large gap in food rescue, with little assistance offered to small restaurants. City Harvest, for example, has a minimum pound requirement for pickup.” Restaurants choose a pickup time, and RLC arranges for a team of volunteers to pick up the food and walk it to nearby shelters. RLC currently works with 50 restaurants in New York City, central New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Albany, Miami, Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Robert says that he and his team of volunteers speak with the missions/shelters to determine what types of foods they need. For instance, “The Bowery Mission in New York City tends to run out of fresh produce, so we work with restaurants that sell salads and fruit, one of which is Maman.” Elisa Marshall, co-owner, says Maman does a big business in salads. What is not sold by the end of their day (6pm) is picked up. Our staff is trained on what foods can be donated and a chart listing them is posted in the kitchen. For us, it’s so nice to know that food is not going to waste. One of the volunteers told us that at a nearby mission people always get excited when they see labels from Maman because they know there is something fresh inside.” She adds that RLC shares data about what they’ve donated (by pound) that they plan to use for a tax savings.

“Our produce company – LA & SF Specialty – has been brilliant getting leftover food into the hands of people who need it,” says Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner, Border Grill, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. “Along with daily deliveries, the company will also drop off insulated boxes for surplus food, which they pick up the following day – items such as avocadoes that we’ve over ordered, over-prepped empanadas for a catering event, etc.” Greg Bird, director of business development, LA & SF Specialty, says, “We have over 200 trucks delivering perishable food to our clients daily, so it’s easy for us pick up food that can be repurposed and drop it off at a local mission/shelter at the end of each day. Boxes for safe transport are ordered using our regular order forms, and, as a way of giving back, we absorb their cost. Each box has a bar code for traceability through the system. We launched the program Chefs To End Hunger with the mission of simply providing food to the hungry that would normally go to waste. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for chefs to repurpose food.”

“Inevitably we make mistakes, so this great service gives incredibly perishable food products a chance at a second life. The staff loves seeing their handiwork go to good use rather than into the trash.” –Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner, Border Grill, Los Angeles and Las Vegas


Footnote: The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects the donor and the recipient agency against liability, excepting only gross negligence and/or intentional misconduct. In addition, each state has passed Good Samaritan Laws that provide liability protection to good faith donors.

For more information about donating surplus food, visit:

– The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act

–EPA Food Recovery Challenge

–What kind of food and Where Can I Donate Food

–Food Donation Connection partnership with NRA

–Food Donation Best Practices Video