Below are a list of food recovery programs, resources, services and stories that are beneficial to anyone wanting to recover food and/or reduce food waste in DC schools. If you know of any other resources or would like to share your food recovery in schools story please email dcfoodrecovery.com.
Table of Contents
Food Recovery Program for Schools in DC
Food Rescue US
Food runner program that coordinates volunteers through an app to help transport extra food to the nearest food pantry for free.
A “shared table” program allows schools to set aside food that wasn’t eaten for children to eat at a later time, take home, or donate to a receiving agency.
DC’s Food Code allows re-serving “not potentially hazardous” food on a share table such as preserved food in a wrapper, fruit with peels, etc.
Re-serving “potentially hazardous” foods (e.g. sealed milk) requires applying for a DOH variance to prove you can keep the milk cool long enough to be recovered.
DGS program to recycle and compost at DCPS schools.
Non profit that helps schools set up food recovery programs.
Pop Up Pantries
Schools can collect extra food for a short time to hold an on-site pop up pantry for community members in need. It may be necessary for a 501c3 non profit to oversee this donation to qualify for the Good Samaritan federal liability coverage. But the new DC Save Good Food Act, if it passes the DC Council, will extend the liability coverage to anyone donating at anytime.
Food Recovery Network (Just Colleges)
Organizes college chapters to recover college cafeteria food
Food Recovery School Resources
Programs and Resources
WWF: Food Waste Warrior Toolkit (For Schools)
The food waste warrior toolkit provides lessons, activities and resources to share how what we eat and what we throw away impacts our planet by creating a classroom in the cafeteria.
Zero Waste DC School Resources
DGS Sustainability Division’s guides, signage and programs for recycling and composting at schools.
- Extends liability coverage to anyone donating food in good faith to a non profit
- No one has ever been sued for donating food since this bill
DC Good Faith Donor and Donee Act
In 1981, the District of Columbia passed such legislation, which provides civil and criminal liability protection to food donors and nonprofit organizations that receive and distribute donated food free of charge or at a nominal fee.
Food Recovery in the District of Columbia: A Legal Guide
The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic partnered with the DC Food Recovery Working Group to published the “Food Recovery in the District of Columbia: A Legal Guide” as a guide for laws and policies around food recovery in DC.
DC Food Policies
- Extend the same liability coverage as Bill Emerson Act
- DC’s Food Code allows donation of unserved food
DGS/DOH Shared Table Guidance
- DC’s Food Code allows re-serving “non potentially hazardous” food on a share table
- Re-serving some “potentially hazardous” foods requires applying for a DOH variance
OSSE’s Offer vs. Serve Guidance
To help prevent food waste this model allows children to make chooses on what they want to eat to avoid getting food they don’t want.
USDA Guidance on School Food Donation
The USDA has issued guidance on school food donation. This guidance advises schools to plan menus carefully to avoid making excess food altogether, and recommends that schools, in consultation with local and state health and sanitation codes, consider incorporating leftover food into subsequent meals, or offering “share tables” where students can leave extra food to be taken by other students. The guidance only suggests donating to a food bank or 501(c)(3) charitable organization when these avenues of mitigating food waste are not possible.
The National School Lunch Act
The National School Lunch Act explicitly allows schools to donate food not consumed
from theNational School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program
(SBP) as long as the unconsumed food is donated to a food bank or charitable organization. Schools that participate in the NSLP and SBP are already required to follow certain food safety standards, including implementing a written food safety program and undergoing a health inspection twice a year. The National School Lunch Act explicitly states that schools are protected by the same food donation liability protections set forth in the federal Emerson Act.
Food Safety for Food Donations
“Food donors and food recovery organizations must comply with food safety regulations. However, these regulations often do not directly address food donation, and can be difficult to navigate for food donors, food recovery organizations, non-profits and health inspectors alike. This section will discuss federal and D.C. food safety laws for food donations.
Does the federal government regulate food safety for food establishments in D.C.? The federal government does not regulate food safety for food establishments such as restaurants, institution nal kitchens, and retail food stores. That is because these entities sell food within states or the District, and the federal government only has the power to regulate food that is traveling in interstate commerce. As a result, states and the District are responsible for regulating and enforcing food safety regimes for food establishments within their borders and the federal government is responsible for regulating food facilities that process food for sale nationally.
However, state food safety laws and regulations are largely based on model federal food safety guidance published by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply. The FDA Food Code is the primary guidance states and localities follow when developing food safety laws. It reflects the input of an array of experts—including regulatory officials, industry, academia, and consumers—who participate in a biennial Conference for Food Protection.
Although the federal government provides guidance via the FDA Food Code, individual states are responsible for regulating the safety of food establishments.89 The FDA Food Code is not binding Comprehensive Resource for Food Recovery Programs unless a state or local government chooses to adopt it as such by passing a statute or by incorporating it into regulations.90 All fifty states and Washington, D.C. have adopted some version of the FDA Food Code.91 Unfortunately, the FDA Food Code does not specifically address food safety for food donations, meaning that states, including D.C., generally do not have language about food donations in their regulations.
The Comprehensive Resource for Food Recovery Programs is a guidance document for the various stakeholders involved in or impacted by food recovery on how to create a food donation program that adheres to food safety standards. It includes guidance and sample forms on the relevant food safety rules for food recovery programs. The Comprehensive Resource is not binding law and is only intended to be a supportive tool. Source: Comprehensive Resource for Food Recovery Programs, Conf. for Food Prot., 15-16 (Apr. 2016), http:// http://www.foodprotect.org/issues/packets/2016Packet/ attachments/I_011_content_b.pdf.
Does D.C. have any food safety regulations that focus on food recovery?
No. Although D.C. has food safety and sanitation standards for food establishments in D.C. (restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) the standards do not clearly indicate what safety requirements specifically govern food donations. Nevertheless, businesses in D.C. should ensure that they are following D.C. food safety standards when starting a food recovery program, specifically any provisions that apply to the storage, transportation, handling, and packaging of food. For example food donors should:
- Store donated food in a clean, dry location where it does not face exposure to splash, dust, or other contaminants
- Ensure that employees and staff handling food donations follow proper hand washing and hygiene practices by washing hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before handling food.
- Monitor the time and temperature of potentially hazardous prepared food to ensure that the food does not stay in temperature danger zone (42° F – 139° F) for more than two hours.
- Avoid cross-contamination of foods by keeping raw food, such as meats and poultry, away from cooked or ready to eat food.
- More information about the D.C. Food Code and food safety standards for food establishments in D.C.
More information can be found here: https://doh.dc.gov/service/food-code-frequently-asked-questions.
Are there any guidance documents that businesses can use to ensure food is being donated safely?
The D.C. government has not created any guidance documents to help ensure food is donated safely. However, the following states have created food safety guidelines that can be adapted by businesses and the District to help ensure safe food handling and distribution practices:
San Diego County, California produced a “Too Good to Waste!” guide that includes sections on food handling rules for how to donate food safely, such as required temperatures for cooling down cooked food. They also produced an easy-to-use safe food handling donation checklist. The guide can be found here: http:// http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/dpw/ recycling/Food.html.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, in partnership with the Center for EcoTechnology’s RecyclingWorks program, produced a guide for best management practices for food donation. It has been vetted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and accurately reflects Massachusetts food safety regulations, as well as best practices for donating food. This guide is disseminated to interested potential donors online and via trainings and direct technical assistance to help donors create well-structured food recovery programs. The guide can be found here: https://recyclingworksma.com/donate/.
New York City, New York created “Simple Steps to Donate Your Healthy Surplus: A Guide for Food Donors,” which contains food safety instructions, answers to frequently asked questions that directly address donors’ concerns, contact information for food recovery organizations in NY, and information on the liability protections donors receive.100 The guide can he found here: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/public/food-donor-resource-guide.pdf
Proposed D.C. Legislation: Save Good Food Amendment Act Food Safety Guidance
The Save Good Food Amendment Act would require the D.C. Department of Health and the Office of Waste Diversion to develop a food donation guide that would include safety regulations, best practices, and a list of organizations that accept donated food. D.C. Department of Health would also have to train health inspectors on the information in the guide. Source: Save Good Food Amendment Act of 2017, B22-0072, 2017 D.C. http:// lims.dccouncil.us/Download/37273/B22-0072-Introduction.pdf.
The federal government does not regulate food safety for food establishments such as restaurants, institutional kitchens, and retail food stores. Thus, states and the District generally regulate food safety in food establishments. Although D.C. has food safety regulations for food establishments, these regulations do not clearly indicate what safety requirements specifically apply to food donation.
Food Recovery in K-12 schools
Schools present unique and important foodSchools present unique and important food recovery opportunities. Food waste in schools has long been an issue, with rates mirroring larger trends in consumer food waste. It is estimated that elementary and secondary schools waste about two pounds of food per student each month. School food waste is caused by a multitude of factors.Students generally have too little time to eat, and rushed students eat less and throw away more.103Additionally, widespread misunderstanding of school food regulations contribute to waste. This section will discuss both federal and D.C. laws and policies that pertain to the recovery and donation of excess foods from K-12 schools.
Does the federal government regulate the recovery and donation of surplus food from K-12 schools?
The federal government plays an active role in regulating school food, particularly food procured using funds under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program(SBP).104 The National School Lunch Act explicitly allows schools to donate food not consumed from the NSLP and SBP as long as the unconsumed food is donated to a food bank or charitable organization. Schools that participate in the NSLP and SBP are already required to follow certain food safety standards, including implementing a written food safety program and undergoing a health inspection twice a year. The National School Lunch Act explicitly states that schools are protected by the same food donation liability protections set forth in the federal Emerson Act.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also encourages schools participating in NSLP and SBP to use “share tables.” Share tables are a table or cart where students can put uneaten food still in its original wrapper or peel and another student can take the food for free, or the school can donate the food. Share tables must meet the same food safety standards that schools that participate in NSLP and SBP are already required to follow and must also meet state and local health and safety standards. More information about the USDA’s policy on share tables can be found here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/use-share-tables-child-nutrition-programs.
USDA Guidance on School Food Donation
The USDA has issued guidance on school food donation. This guidance advises schools to plan menus carefully to avoid making excess food altogether, and recommends that schools, in consultation with local and state health and sanitation codes, consider incorporating leftover food into subsequent meals, or offering “sharetables” where students can leave extra food to be taken by other students. The guidance only suggests donating to a food bank or501(c)(3) charitable organization when these avenues of mitigating food waste are not possible.
Source: Guidance on the Food Donation Program in ChildNutrition Programs, U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Feb. 3, 2012 https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/FNS_Guidance.pdf
Are there any laws in D.C. that pertain to the recovery and donation of excess food from K-12 schools?
No. There are no specific laws in D.C. pertaining to donating excess food from schools. However, the D.C. Food Code does provide guidance on share tables in D.C. The D.C Food Code allows packaged, closed, and non-potentially hazardous foods, such as cereal packs, or bags of carrots, to be reserved. 110 In order to re-serve “potentially hazardous foods,” such as milk, cheese or other foods requiring time and temperature control on a share table, schools must apply for a variance to the D.C. Code by contacting the D.C. Department of Health to obtain a Variance Request Form. Contact information for the D.C. Department of Health’s Food Safety and Hygiene Division can be found here: https://doh.dc.gov/service/food-safety-hygiene-and-inspection-services-division
Thus, the following foods are allowed and not allowed on share tables in D.C. schools:
Foods allowed on share tables in D.C.
- Commercially pre-packaged, unopened items with the packages intact, including cereal packs, crackers, bags of carrots, and raisin boxes
- Whole uneaten fruits and vegetables with inedible skin, like bananas and oranges
- Commercially pre-packaged perishable food and beverage products, like milk and cheese, if the package is unopened and the item is stored in an ice bath, cooler, or refrigerator maintained at or below 41°F at all times.
Foods not allowed on share tables in D. C.
- Fruits and vegetables with edible skin, like apples, pears, and peaches
- Open items, unpackaged items, and items in packages that are not intact, such as a salad bowl without a lid, or an opened bag of baby carrots or sliced apples
- Perishable foods when a temperature control mechanism is not in place
- Food and beverage items brought from a student’s home
Are there any guidance documents that schools can use to ensure excess food is being recovered and donated safely?
D.C. does not currently have any published guidance on food recovery in schools. However, the following states and school districts have developed helpful guidance for food donation in schools, and can serve as useful models for D.C. schools interested in adopting a school food donation program:
Oakland Unified School District created a food donation guide with step-by-step instructions and customizable templates that can be utilized to create a school food donation program. The guide can be found here: https://furtherwithfood.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Food-DonationGuide-June1_17.pdf.
Indiana’s Department of Health created guidance documents on food donation best practices for schools. The Indiana guidance document includes distinctions between opened and unopened packages as well as temperature control requirements, and instructs how to set up a share table system. The guidance document can be found here: https://in.gov/isdh/files/School_Sharing_ Tables_and_Food_Recovery_12-23-2015_(2).pdf.
Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction created a food safety protocol and monitoring program for schools to use when setting up a share table. The food safety protocol can be found here: https://dpi.wi.gov/school-nutrition/food-safety#waste.
The federal government plays an active role in regulating the nutrition of school food, particularly food procured using funds under the NSLP and the SBP, and explicitly allows and promotes the donation of surplus food from these programs. The USDA supports, and has issued guidance on, school food donation for schools interested in starting a food donation program. Currently, D.C. does not have any specific laws or guidance pertaining to donating excess food from schools in the District. However, the D.C. Food Code does provide guidance on foods allowed and not allowed to be included on share tables.
Composting Programs for Schools
DGS Organics Recycling Program
The DCPS Recycles! program allows all DCPS schools the opportunity to opt in to organics recycling. The program follows national best practices for sorting food scraps and soiled paper waste in school cafeterias and kitchens.
DPR Community Compost Cooperative Network
The DC Parks and Recreation (DPR) Community Compost Cooperative Network uses new critter proof and smell proof compost bins to allow trained community members to compost food scraps with garden waste from DPR and partner DPR gardens to responsibly create high quality compost. To join each member must take an hour training and help process compost 1-hour a month. Since 2016 DPR has partnered with DC schools to create a hybrid model where the surrounding community will manage the compost bins while the school can focus on compost programs.
Personal DC Stories about School Food Rescue
One day, a month into the 2015 school year, my six-year old son came up to me in the kitchen, and this is how the conversation went:
Max: “Mom, I have to throw away the milk at lunchtime every day.”
Me: “What milk? You don’t even drink milk” (He has never liked plain milk).
Max: “The milk that they give me at lunchtime”
Me: “Ok. Just say ‘no thank you’ next time”
Max: “I did, but I still have to put it on my tray when I get my food”.
Me: “Really? So you have to take the milk every day at lunchtime? Then what?”
Max: “Then I eat my food and throw everything else out, including the milk carton, which I didn’t open”
I admit I was skeptical. This was not something we would ever do at home, and it would go against the what we would want to teach our children about valuing food and taking care of the earth. Could it really be happening on a daily basis at school? And if my kid is doing this, how many other kids might be doing it too?
So I checked with our assistant principal. It was true. She was equally disturbed by all the waste this was causing, but these decisions are not made by the individual schools, but rather by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Office of Nutrition. So we checked with them to better understand the reasons. Essentially, what we were told made sense: that all PK-5th grade students are served an entire meal for breakfast and lunch, which must include all components: grain, protein, fruit, vegetables, and milk. The intention is to ensure that students are exposed to healthy foods, and by having it in front of them they are more likely to take a bite of something nutritious. It also made it easier for schools serving many students over a busy lunch period to make sure the line moves more quickly, rather than having elementary school children take their time to pick and choose what they want. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this model is the amount of food that gets wasted. The people we spoke to at DCPS recognized this problem and provided helpful suggestions such as implementing a “share table” where kids can leave unwanted items on a table which another child might like to have.
It was Christmas 2015, and I had just seen a presentation at my work by a charity called Healthy Babies, which helps at-risk D.C. families have healthy babies. I was so moved by the work they do, including providing meals and teaching healthy ways of cooking to expecting mothers. I asked where they get their food from and was told that they rely a lot on donations. There had to be a way to get the unused milk to those who needed it, whether it was Healthy Babies or another charity. But how?
I discussed the possibilities with our wonderful staff at the school, including the administration, the dedicated staff who work in the cafeteria, and teachers who were volunteering their time to work on sustainability issues. Naturally there were a few concerns. The main, and most common concern, was that the school could get sued if someone gets sick from the donated food. Fortunately, that has never happened, and thanks to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, no food donor can be sued when donating food in good faith. A simple Google search led me to discover this.
The school staff were incredibly quick to take action. The school was participating in a recycling and compost program, which meant that one of the teachers had taken on the task of conducting a baseline survey at the end of the lunch period. I joined her on one of the days for the survey and we helped the kids sort through trash, recycling, compost, and we put aside the unopened milk cartons, untouched oranges, apples, unopened crackers and other odds and ends. At the end of the lunch period we had collected 67 cartons of milk and over 30 pieces of fruit and packages of crackers. In one day. Let’s multiply this by five days a week. Now let’s multiply this by all the schools in DC.
After a dinner with friends one evening where I couldn’t stop talking about this issue, one of my friends came across an article about MEANS database. So on the same day I was helping to do the baseline survey at the school, I later went to meet with the founders of MEANS. Knowing that those 67 cartons of milk were going to be wasted, I put the box in my car and decided to test out how the MEANS database worked. We stored the milk in the fridge, entered the information about the available milk in the database and waited to see if a charity would claim it. After I left that meeting, I learned that the milk had been claimed by a DC shelter. After that I could not imagine ever throwing away more milk. In addition to feeding people who need it, it could save charities a lot of money.
Wheeling the new cooler to school
We signed up the school to the MEANS database, and our family donated a cooler which my children wheeled over to the school one morning. Now, twice a week after lunch, a local charity picks up the milk from just outside the school where the cooler is placed. Currently, the local charity is Miriam’s Kitchen. And we are so thrilled to have partnered with them as our “Sister Charity”. What if every school could have a “Sister Charity” that could pick up the un-used food every day? We would really like to explore this possibility with any school that is interested.
In 2016 I joined the newly formed DC Food Recovery Working Group, and found out that they were helping the DC Department of General Services (DGS) develop guidance for schools to donate unused food. As part of the Working Group, I learned about how much is being done on legislation to allow food donations, tax credits for restaurants that donate food, new apps, including one called Food Rescue US that allows you to donate your leftover food by helping to transport it, among many other creative initiatives such as community fridges.
I know I am not alone when I say that I do not want to teach my children that throwing perfectly good food in the trash is okay. Many people are hungry and really need the food. In 2015 there were 13.1 million children living in food-insecure households, and yet up to 40% of our food ends up in landfills every year in the United States. Food waste breaks down and generates methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that has a warming potential of 21 times that of carbon dioxide (Source: EPA). Then there is the water and land used to grow and produce the food in the first place. Eighty percent of all U.S. freshwater consumption is dedicated to the production and distribution of food. The implications are big.
The good news is that awareness is increasing, with universities and organizations all over the country coming up with innovative ways to tackle this massive challenge. In the District of Columbia, other schools are either starting to divert good food from the trash bin, or asking how it can be done. We know that there is a problem with over-ordering food, which leads to waste in the first place, but we are tackling one problem at a time. Wouldn’t it be nice if official guidance could be provided to any school that is asking if and how this can be done? That’s why I am so happy that the “Save the Good Food Amendment Act of 2017” is being put forward to the DC City Council. It will open up many more possibilities to make sure good food does not get wasted. If this bill is passed, then the Department of Health will provide a food donation guide for everyone, including schools. We hope you can help support this bill!
Parent at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens