Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Jan 9, 2012 07:55 AM

The real reson for the "Waste"

After watching the show, and seeing the inspection process, I am convinced our litigious society is the reason all this food goes to waste. The perfect example was Chef Burrell arguing with the food inspector about the pancetta. She was correct, of course, that pancetta is cured meat and does not require constant refrigeration, especially for the inside of the meat not exposed to the elements.

The issue as I see it is the fear farmers, distributors, etc., have of being sued if someone gets a bad tomato. Sure, they could donate food from their farms, or fish returned to the main distibutor, to food kitchens/pantries, but they will also be in the crosshairs of anyone looking to make a quick buck. Legal concerns prevent many altruistic endeavors from happening every day in America, sadly.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Just saw the typo in the title...should be reason, of course.

    1. Here's a link to a 2008 article in Supermarket News on the subject of donations by supermarkets to food banks:

      Supermarkets have economies of scale which restaurants do not, and restaurants typically have low profit margins and operate in a highly competitive market. Risk of litigation may be a factor discouraging restaurateurs from making donations to food banks, but even if the risk were very small, there would be a lot of waste. It is simply economics. It is not efficient to send food through the distribution system to restaurants, normally an end user, then redistribute their surplus. Few restaurants can afford this extra cost.

      6 Replies
      1. re: GH1618

        Interesting read. I'm thinking more about the mom and pop farms, not the restaurants. If I owned my own farm, I would be very cautious about donating a truck load of produce considered "old" when I would be opening up my livliehood to lawsuits.

        Interesting discussion though...

        1. re: PubCrawler2011

          Small farmers probably compost their vegetable surplus, or feed it to the chickens. Apple growers can send surplus to a cider mill. A lot of substandard produce gets used this way. It wouldn't be worth the fuel cost to truck inferior produce to the city (where most food banks are) to give away or sell at a steep discount. Everything comes down to economics, in my opinion.

          When I worked in a restaurant, many years ago, the chef took the lettuce trimmings home to feed to his fighting cocks. He was doing his part.

          1. re: GH1618

            Econimics for the farms to deliver maybe, but the amount of excess at local farms can easily be picked up by charities at no cost to the farms. Maybe it is as much the lack of a coordinated effort as it is fear of litigation or economics. Whatever the reason, the show opened my eyes to the amounts wasted.

            1. re: PubCrawler2011

              the factors yo've cited, liability, economics, usw., all add up when many of the businesses involved operate on small margins. to produce the show, the network had a food inspector available, and the quality assurance provided by their reputable chefs. we should also bear in mind that they made the show right during the late summer/autumn harvest 'glut' season when there's simply more fresh fruits and veg ripe and ready than the marketing/distribution system can get to consumers before they perish.

              as we all know, the priorities of our society won't allocate the relatively modest funds to convert our food surpluses into feeding the hungry and poor, and wealth/income inequality has accelerated in the past two decades or so and is greater than it's ever been.

              1. re: PubCrawler2011

                @ Pubcrawler - I just watched the show this morning & I have to agree - I was shocked by the amounts of food wasted. I almost wish they had made the show longer to focus on it & the dinner more in depth.

                And I'd really like to see more from the Freegan guy.....

                1. re: PubCrawler2011

                  How many charities are within easy driving distance of farms? In small cities that might work, but not in large urban areas, where the inner city is 50 miles from any farmland.

          2. As much as blaming a litigious society is a fun pastime, it really is a red herring. Even if your local jurisdiction doesn't already have such an overriding legislative rule in place, Federal Law has had the Bill Emmerson Food Donation in place since 1996 - you can find out more here:

            Long and short, if you give your food to a non-profit, you're good.

            That being said, having a relative that works for a major food company that has food waste, I can tell you there are a few reasons that their food is tossed rather than donated to local organizations:
            - Their food requires refrigeration and has higher-sugar levels. Food Pantries and Meals on Wheels don't have unlimited storage and do service diabetics. So while they'll take some of the food, they can't afford to take it all and give up space for food that better serves a larger nutritional need.
            - Food Pantries and the like don't always have individuals available for pickup or the proper vehicles/storage. So if you want to donate a few hundred pounds of something requiring refrigeration, they may not be able to get there before it rots...and you may not have the time or ability to have your shipping company load a truck and drop off on their way to regular routes and meet normal business needs. If donating food becomes major effort, this is a hindrance. (Think about the success of general recycling in communities that don't make curbside part of normal trash pickup vs. those that put all the effort on the end-consumer to seek out centers and haul trash themselves.
            )- Sometimes the Food Bank/Organization has too much of what you're offering. This comes down to storage and ability to give out. If the food bank has 500 boxes of cereal on hand and you want to give them 1,000 of about-to-expire and they only give out 200 boxes a week and they normally get 250 boxes a week anyway...well, your 1,000 box donation is really surplus that will likely become waste anyway.

            As has already been mentioned, using waste for compost is perfectly valid. What was more to the point was the rather high-quality of the compost that came from carelessness through our own greedy behavior (sorting through a box and bruising other tomatoes in a search for "the one!" which meant we were effectively ruining 4 tomatoes for the one we wanted) and crazy high standards of perfection.

            I'd say it's not so much the litigation (which we've established can't happen through legislation), but our own pride in a fake "OCD" where we expect everything to be just so and we've become so obsessed with protecting ourselves from germs and pathogens that we assume things are "bad" so much sooner than any sane individual should.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Stephmo

              Your point in your penultimate paragraph is right on the mark. The produce in most supermarkets in the US looks great because they cull everything that is less than perfect, even if perfectly usable as food. They do this because consumers will always pick the best pieces. I witnessed this a few days ago when I was buying mushrooms, and the grocer was picking out a lot of mushrooms that looked perfectly usable. I asked him about it and he said that shoppers would pass them up. So true.

              Anyone who really wants to reduce the waste of fresh produce at supermarkets should be selecting the least attractive items for themselves. I hate it when shoppers take too much time selecting produce (or anything else) when I need some, too. Once I actually saw someone picking fresh green beans one by one! It must have taken half an hour.

            2. What about the lady I saw once going through the apples at the grocery, taking a bite and putting them back before moving on to the next bin to taste. You have that kind of waste and then the people who peel corn husks almost off before selecting their corn. I know there could be more consumer education but you will always have the selfish idiots.