Preserving Food and Protecting Good Samaritans
California is one of the largest food-producing states in the nation, yet 1 in 8 Californians faces food insecurity. This is all the more frustrating given we throw away more than 5.5 million tons of food every year and much of it is still edible, wholesome, and safe for consumption. Food labels often confuse consumers, which either leads them to toss food into the trash prematurely or discourages them from donating it.
But help is on the way! Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law AB 1219 (Eggman, Chapter 619, Statutes of 2017), the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This law helps clarify protections for food donors, who sometimes hesitate to donate food for fear of civil and criminal liability.
What many don’t know is that food with an expired “sell by” date can still be safe to eat and safe to donate. This date is primarily intended for retailers to help them track when a product should be sold or removed from a shelf. It is not a “don’t use after” date. AB 1219 aims to increase food donations by clarifying and increasing liability protections for donors.
The law will provide liability protection for:
- food donations that have exceeded the sell-by date,
- food donations that are made directly to end-users (rather than through a nonprofit food recovery intermediary), and
- “gleaners” who harvest directly from an agricultural crop that has been donated by the owner.
The bill aims to reduce the amount of food we throw away and divert it to those in our state who need it most. AB 1219 clarifies the scope and provisions outlined in existing California laws and the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, a federal law signed into effect by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Diverting food waste from landfills has environmental benefits as well. Food waste comprises about 18 percent of the material disposed in California landfills, the highest amount of any material. When food waste is landfilled, it decomposes and emits methane gas, a super pollutant that intensifies climate change. Climate change impacts California’s air quality, threatens our economy including food production, and contributes to an increase in health afflictions like asthma.
Simply put, diverting food waste from landfills helps protect public health by combatting food insecurity and fighting climate change. Every ton of food diverted from a landfill prevents 2.08 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from being released into the atmosphere.
CalRecycle is providing $5 million in grants this year through its Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Programs. These efforts are part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that uses cap-and-trade funds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy, and improve public health and the environment. To learn more about food rescue efforts and food banks, visit CalRecycle’s website.