Where Does Your Unwanted Food on Campus Go?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A uOttawa student holds a bottle of juice that will be donated to those in need
Marie-Pier, from the Office of Campus Sustainability, holds up a donation for the soup kitchen.

At one point or another, you've probably asked the question, "What do they do with all the unsold food on campus?"

Maybe you were in a bakery, at the grocery store, or in a restaurant — the point is that you probably noticed a lot of food going to waste.

If you’d asked me a year ago, the answer would be simple and sad: the landfill. That said, I’m happy to report that we've changed that for the better.

It turns out that there’s this thing called the Good Faith Food Act (Food Donation Act in Ontario), which protects you from liability if you donate food to a charity in "good faith" — meaning that, if you take proper precautions to make sure the food is still good to eat, you won’t get sued in the event something happens or someone gets sick. This way, more food can be donated while still ensuring some kind of quality control.

Our campus food provider, Chartwells, donates their unsold food to the food bank the day that the ‘best before’ date expires. The Food Bank then has the rest of the day to distribute the donations — but what happens if the staff can't give the food away before day’s end? Although the Food Bank has amazing practices with respect to keeping the food fresh, it also has a policy that forbids giving away food after the ‘best before’ date.

This is tragic, since the best before date doesn't necessarily mean the food has gone bad in any way, yet these packaged sandwiches and salads are tossed in the trash.
= (

Well, seeing that this was an issue, the SFUO Sustainability Centre and the Office of Campus Sustainability have partnered up to remedy the situation. The solution? We now immediately transport that food to local shelters. This past week, we established agreements with a kitchen whereby the staff will inspect the food and, if it is still good (which it will, of course, be on the best before date), it will go to feeding those in need.

Once the food donations from Chartwells (Food Services) arrive at the Food Bank, they are stored in refrigerators that keep the food at precisely 3ºC, a condition that ensures that bacteria can’t propagate. (I actually observed the little thermometers in the fridges at both the cafeteria and the Food Bank first hand.) Essentially, the food is being suspended in time for a little while longer until we can get it to those in need.

This whole situation has really gotten me thinking about the "best before" label, which is quickly becoming the bane of my existence. The thing with the "best before" label is that it’s used to denote when a vendor believes their product is past its prime, not when it is close to spoiling. Some argue this is a form of built-in obsolescence to encourage consumers to continuous buy new products. I don't know if that’s true; all I know is that today, a few less people are going to go hungry.

For those of you who work at cafés or restaurants, or know people who do, consider spreading the word about the Good Faith Food Act. Maybe together we can increase the contributions to local shelters and food banks.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager
photo credit -

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