Food Recovery and the Law

Facilitating Food Recovery & Donation Through Liability-Limiting Legislation

Many businesses throughout the food chain – from field to table and beyond – are surprised by the sheer volume of food that is wasted in America. They are also struck by the magnitude of the avoidable costs associated with food waste and intrigued by the significant and diverse benefits in food recovery programs. However, few companies take steps to divert food from the waste stream because they lack information about how to implement a safe and efficient food recovery system. Those who do engage in food recovery often stop short of donating their unused, excess, or unsalable food to charitable feeding organizations because they worry about exposing themselves to liability in the event that a foodborne illness is associated with the donated food. Fortunately, to facilitate food recovery and donation, there are comprehensive laws in place to protect good faith donors from such liability. Thus, in most situations, liability-based concerns about food recovery are unfounded because of federal and state laws that offer broad protections to good faith donors of gleaned and recovered food.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 promotes food recovery and donation to charitable feeding organizations by limiting the liability of donors in all 50 states. Absent gross negligence or intentional misconduct, the Bill Emerson Act protects covered persons, gleaners and nonprofit organizations from civil and criminal liability stemming from the nature, packaging, or condition of wholesome food and fit grocery products offered or received as good faith donations.

The Food Recovery Project has developed comprehensive, downloadable materials on the legal aspects of food donation to help education food sector businesses, non-profit feeding organizations, and their attorneys about the protections afforded to food donors and nonprofit recipients.

Businesses interested in participating in food recovery without eroding the protections of the Bill Emerson Act can easily avoid engaging in conduct that might be deemed grossly negligent by understanding and implementing food safety practices and remaining cognizant of food safety laws. Because these practices and laws are generally the same as those that apply to the sale of food, for most organizations, the additional education and training needed to responsibly undertake food recovery efforts will be minimal.

PLEASE NOTE: The resources created and compiled by the Food Recovery Project provide a helpful introduction to federal laws pertaining to food donation. However, the information on this site about legal matters is provided as a general guide only and should not be relied on as a substitute for specific legal advice. The Food Recovery Project endeavors to keep all the information on the site as up to date as possible but errors may sometimes occur. Links to third party websites are provided for your convenience and do not imply that we endorse those sites.