Best Practices for Food Rescue Organizations

Every year, 1/3 of the food produced globally is not eaten: it is lost or wasted at points along the food chain from fields, farms, warehouses, markets, grocers, and kitchens (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO], 2016). The labour, energy, and water resources used to grow that food are also wasted. It decomposes in fields or landfills as the largest component of solid waste, releasing 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the air each year (FAO, 2014).

Policymakers, researchers, farmers, businesses, and community organizations are beginning to respond to the growing concern for the astonishing levels of food waste, food insecurity, and environmental destruction: a new French law forbids supermarkets from throwing out food; two Danish grocery stores sell only products that have expired; neighbours share the bounty from their backyard fruit trees; community fridges offer leftovers in India, Spain, Germany, and United Kingdom; beer brewers bake bread from spent grains (Eggers & Benz, 2014; Finn, O’Donnell & Walls, 2014; Hall, 2016; Berry, Faber, Geller, & Jacobs, 2016). Food-rescue entrepreneurs and organizations have emerged as key players in tackling food waste. Though the organizations are as diverse as the communities they serve, they share the same ultimate goal: gather nutritious, edible food that would otherwise be wasted and ensure its delivery to those who need it (Lipinski et al., 2013; Finn et al., 2014; Berry et al., 2016).

However, for fledgling food rescue initiatives, there is little published information on the effectiveness of various food rescue organizational models, including a lack of established best practices and recommendations for their success. Some organizations have created documents about how they created their own food rescue programs, and the media continues to report on the story of food waste, but little research has attempted to establish best practices for food rescue and fruit sharing initiatives.

The purpose of this report is to gather information from North American food rescue initiatives to uncover the merits and drawbacks of various operational models, to understand the common barriers, and see how they are being overcome. Working with a fantastic team of graduate students from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we scanned the academic and grey literature, developed a North American food rescue organization inventory, and conducted 38 surveys and seven interviews with representatives from a variety of food rescue initiatives. Analyses revealed four main categories for consideration: community-focused response and engagement, organizational structure, collaboration, and advocacy. Our findings suggest that regardless of the size, structure, or barriers faced by an organization, food rescue initiatives are successful when they respond to the unique needs of their communities and foster community engagement.

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