Innovative ideas that can make a difference are out there. They just need recognition. In one case, a significant tool to combat hunger evolved from the question of an eleven year old boy from Florida.
Jack Davis, a middle school student from Miami, was on vacation in Tennessee. The young man noticed quantities of left over food after a breakfast buffet at a hotel. Jack asked a simple, but compelling question..."What do you do with all of that food?" He was told good and salvageable food was thrown away each day, instead of being donated for consumption by the needy. Why? Concerns about restaurant liability for donating excess food.
Such a response upset Jack, as it does everyone else. He contacted State Representative Ari Porth of Coral Springs, Florida, and the result is a pending bill, entitled the "Florida Restaurant Lending A Helping Hand Act." The legislation is also sponsored by Florida State Senator Nan Rich.
According to Senator Rich on January 11, this innovative legislative effort "amends provisions regarding liability for canned and perishable food distributed free of charge by expanding the definition of 'perishable food' to include foods that have been prepared at a licensed public food service establishment. Simply put, the bill will permit restaurants and other public food establishments to donate perishable foods to charitable or nonprofit organizations for the benefit of persons in need."
The problem of wasted food stocks is massive. According to Wikipedia, "In 2004, a University of Arizona (UA) study indicates that forty to fifty percent of US edible food never gets eaten. Every year $43 billion worth of edible food is estimated to be thrown away in the US." Some of that staggering statistic is due to non-consumption of restaurant food. WasteAge.com, commenting on the UA study, reported in March, 2004 that "Americans throw away 1.3 pounds of food every day, or 474.5 pounds per year."
According to CNN.com in a story entitled "All About Food Waste," "5 percent of American's leftovers could feed 4 million people for 1 day" and "Disposing of food waste costs the U.S. $1 billion a year." The environmental consequences are huge as well. The CNN report points out that "rotting food releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2."
Everyone wastes food, but the problem is often swept under the table cloth and compounded by establishments which purchase large quantities of food but waste significant percentages of what is on-hand for consumer consumption by simply discarding it into land fills.
Exiting law, under Florida Statute 768.136, discusses liability for canned or perishable food which is distributed free of charge. It currently provides that a good faith donor of any canned or perishable foods fit for human consumption (such as meats, chicken, seafood, dairy products, bakery products, fruits and vegetables) shall not be subject to criminal penalty or civil damages arising from the condition of the food, unless the injury is caused by gross negligence, recklessness or intentional misconduct by the donor.
Jack's proposed law expands the limited immunity protection to include foods prepared in "public food services establishments" licensed as a food service business by the State of Florida.
Imagine the sweeping impact of such a bill, if enacted into law. With over 43,000 licensed public food service establishment in the State of Florida, literally tons of unused food that would otherwise be thrown away could find its way daily to local homeless shelters, food banks and social service agencies for distribution on a monthly basis. Many such charitable services run out of food at various times of the year. Jack's idea has the potential to avoid limited food stock availability to those who need it the most. The bill creates the opportunity for painless charitable efforts.
In the Florida Senate, the bill is number "SB 276." In the Florida House, the legislation is HB 0099. Senator Rich reports the Florida Justice Association endorses this legislative initiative as does the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association. The Florida Senate Regulated Industries Committee was presented with the idea by Senator Rich on January 8. After hearing the bill, the Committee unanimously voted in favor of the measure. It is moving through the legislative process with significant backing.
This is a bill we can all support with enthusiasm. How many times you have sat at a restaurant and wondered about wasted food? You pondered what could be done, but without realistic solutions. Thanks to the innovation of Jack Davis and the legislators moving this bill through Tallahassee, there is now an intelligent answer. The Florida Legislature can, and should, make Jack's law an early accomplishment ready for Governor Crist's signature with all due speed in its upcoming session.
That's not all, however. Local governments have an immediate role to play here once the bill becomes law. Each city and town in the state should sponsor an incentive program for restaurant participation to supply food banks. Those food service providers donating food can be recognized on governmental web sites and the publication of annual lists highlighting those who are making Jack's law a reality at the community level. Certificates can be issued by Mayors and Council members to those establishments who donate the food, in appreciation of this initiative.
Other states should amend their laws and sink their teeth into legislation. Given that hunger silently abounds in every corner of America, Jack's question, and answer, should be a national priority.
UPDATE: Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed Jack's Law after presentation by the Legislature. It goes into effect on July 1, 2008.