Why Restaurants and Grocers Don’t Donate Food

Chris Newman
7 min readDec 2, 2022

Five Things I Learned When I Got Sued (for something completely unrelated)

Food waste is rightly described as the world’s dumbest problem:

We throw away something like half of the food we produce while agribusiness and biotech simultaneously insist we need to drive up yields and over-engineer our food in order to feed the world.

One of the favorite targets of food activists are businesses that throw away excess or expired food at the end of the day instead of donating it. Some of them throw it out because of the logistical and staffing challenges associated with getting food donated properly, but most of them — especially those dealing in perishable items — are simply afraid of the liability involved if someone gets sick.

Activists will respond that no one has ever been sued for donating food, and that food donors are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which means that the idea of being sued for donating food is a myth and an excuse that businesses use to not be bothered enough to the right thing.

But there’s the thing. If farms, restaurants, and grocers start donating the food they usually throw out, then two significant things will happen:

  1. The composition of donated food will change drastically. Lawsuits for food donations are low at present in part because most donated food is non-perishable (e.g. canned food). The stuff that businesses throw away, on the other hand, is usually perishable and, therefore, much more likely to get someone sick.
  2. Non-perishable donations are statistically rare precisely because of item 1. If those donations were to increase, the instances of people getting sick are statistically guaranteed to increase as well, along with the likelihood that someone will get sued.

Activists, again, usually have an answer for this. First, that the kinds of people that use food pantries and food banks don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to sue anyone, and even if they did, the…

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Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms