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    Standardized Donation Regulation

    Diversion Potential:
    193K Tons

    Economic Value Per Ton:

    GHGs Reduced:
    714K Tons

    Meals Recovered:
    322M Meals


    Standardizing local and state health department regulations for safe handling and donation of food through federal policy


    State and local health departments across the country have food safety laws that may prohibit or hamper the donation of food that is still safe to eat. These regulations generally add an additional burden on donors and recipients, who must navigate the differences between states and cities.

    The FDA Food Code is not law but a model code, allowing states and local governments to adopt all or just portions of it. Once states determine which portions to adopt, it becomes part of state law and is open to interpretation by the state health agents who are responsible for enforcement.

    "Home rule" states may also allow county and local units of government to establish different regulations. For example, Massachusetts state law requires that past-date food be separated and labeled, with no additional stipulations barring these items from being sold or donated. However, Boston health department regulations strictly prohibit the donation of past-dated foods despite the lack of evidence that this poses an additional risk to food safety, according to our interview with Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.

    Standardizing local and state health department laws through federal legislation to create a common policy will enable businesses nationwide to more easily track food regulations and understand their donation options with fewer liability concerns.


    • Political bureaucracy may delay any efforts to enact sweeping legislative changes that would define a national standard for safe food handling and donation practices.
    • Successful advocacy for regulation reform requires balancing a clear demonstration of societal benefits with an assurance of food safety. For example, language could be recommended that allows for canned or other nonperishable items to be donated past code date, but only for a defined length of time.

    Stakeholder Actions

    • Businesses and food recovery organizations should map jurisdictional local and state health regulations to identify overly strict regulations that are not science-based and inhibit donations, as well as commonalities that should form the basis of national policy.
    • Foundations can provide funding to develop research for new health policies and support effective advocacy strategy. Since many regulations are set at the state level, this fits well with interests of regionally focused foundations.
    • Nonprofits can educate businesses and food recovery organizations once new regulations are enacted, particularly staff who will be directly handling and processing food donations. Additionally, local governments should provide updated training for health inspectors.
    • Nonprofits can contribute to furthering science-based food safety research to bolster the case that food donation regulations align with strong safety protections.

    Examples & Resources

    • In Massachusetts, RecyclingWorks worked with a multi-stakeholder group of state and local health officials, food rescue organizations, and businesses with food donation programs to develop Food Donation Guidance documents to help clarify local policies for food donation.

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