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Zero Food Waste Coalition

Section 2

Opportunities to Promote Food Donation

This page contains a summarized version of this toolkit section. Detailed information about model policy components and federal law, state examples, and model legislation is available in the PDF linked above.

This section introduces policies that can promote and incentivize the donation of food (aside from donation requirements highlighted in Section 1), including tax incentives, liability protection, and food safety for food donation. This section includes:

Model State Policies

  • Liability Protections for Food Donation

    Donating safe, surplus food can significantly reduce the amount of food sent to disposal while simultaneously supporting food security goals. Despite the many benefits of food donation, potential donors cite fear of liability as a major deterrent to donating food. Although fear of liability is common, there has been no known litigation related to food donation liability, and both federal and state law provide robust liability protections for food donors. Liability protections vary substantially across states, but ideally, a state food donor liability protection law would offer the following protections to build on the federal protections:

    • Including past date foods
    • Permitting donation regardless of non-safety labeling
    • Requiring guidance on protection offered
  • Tax Incentives for Food Donation

    Because it is often cheaper to dump food than donate it, cost is a main reason that businesses fail to donate excess food. Donation costs include the time and money associated with sorting, packaging, storing, and transporting surplus food. Tax incentives can increase food donation by supporting businesses, like farms, to recover some of their production costs by donating wholesome but unsellable food. Furthermore, tax incentives are a cost-effective policy because the government only pays them out after food is donated. States can improve the reach of tax incentives by tailoring them to the needs of local businesses and farmers. Best practices include:

    • Structuring as a tax credit (versus a deduction)
    • Tailoring the tax incentive to meet the state’s needs
    • Placing only reasonable limits on the amount of tax incentive each year
    • Basing credit value on fair market value:
    • Permitting tax incentives when end recipients pay for food
    • Offering an additional tax credit for transportation and processing costs
  • Food Safety Guidance for Food Donation

    Lack of clear food safety guidance poses a challenge to potential food donors. The food safety laws that apply to food establishments—like restaurants, cafeterias, and retail stores—vary by state and locality. Uncertainty related to food safety coupled with lack of guidance means potential donors are unwilling to donate. As a result, safe and wholesome food is dumped instead of donated. To minimize confusion and increase food donation, states should incorporate a uniform, specific food donation section into their food safety legislation or regulations and this section should outline requirements in explicit terms to provide clarity to potential food donors and food recovery organizations. For maximum impact, relevant agencies should also train health inspectors on food safety for donations and disseminate guidance to potential food donors. Successful state legislation or regulation on food safety for food donations would:

    • Create a specific section on food donation
    • Provide clarity over which foods may be donated
    • Outline which foods may not be donated
    • Require training for health inspectors
    • Circulate additional guidance documents