Due to widely varying interpretations and enforcement of state-level food safety regulations at the local level, leftover prepared foods that could be legally and safely donated and consumed are instead entering landfills.
Last year, a group of local food councils – including the Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council, the Cabarrus Farm & Food Council, the Carteret Food & Health Council, the Chatham Community Food Council, the Davidson Food Network, the Greater High Point Food Alliance, the Guilford County Food Council, and the Orange County Food Policy Council – reached out to the NC Local Food Council (NCLFC) with an issue they were noticing that was affecting food recovery efforts in their communities.
The local food councils highlighted confusion within the communities and local health departments and identified the need for clarity around the rules and regulations that provide the framework for prepared food recovery activities for human consumption.
In response to the local food councils’ request for support, NCLFC formed a Food Waste Recovery Working Group including members from state and local councils to better understand the challenges regarding prepared food recovery policy, and to identify the next steps to improve prepared food recovery outcomes.
Food Recovery: What is it and Why is it Important?
What is food recovery?
Food recovery, also called food rescue, is the practice of gleaning wholesome food for human consumption that would otherwise not be used and go to waste from institutions such as restaurants, dining facilities (businesses, hospitals, cafeterias, etc.), grocery stores, markets, etc. and donating that food to vetted nonprofit agencies able to feed clients in their community.
What are prepared foods?
Prepared and ready-to-eat foods are regulated in North Carolina by county health departments under statewide rules adopted by the Dairy and Food Protection Branch of the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. NC Department of Health and Human Services’ (NCDHHS) Environmental Health Section’s Food Protection Program applies the NC Food Code and provides support to local health departments in enforcing those regulations. Prepared and ready-to-eat foods are any meal, food, or beverage to which a retailer has added value or has altered its state (other than solely by cooling) by preparing, combining, dividing, heating, or serving, in order to make the food or beverage available for immediate human consumption.
What are unserved prepared foods?
Unserved prepared and ready-to-eat foods are prepared foods that have not passed into the hands of a consumer. Foods that have passed into the possession of consumers fall under a different set of regulatory guidelines for recovery.