One thing that seems to come up over and over again in the conference planning world is what happens to all of the leftover food? Does the hotel repurpose it for the hotel staff? Does it get thrown away? It seems like this is an area where there is a huge amount of waste.
We recently encountered this situation at the Centricity Healthcare User Group (CHUG) conference that our company helped organize this fall and found ourselves wondering if there was something we could do. The first night of the event there was a catered welcome reception at the hotel. One of the events that we had set-up was a do it yourself cupcake decorating station. Well as the night progressed, the CHUG Board President, Terri Werner-Brown noticed that there were a lot of cupcakes that had not been touched nor were they going to get decorated. Instead of having the cupcakes go to waste she thought that it would be a nice gesture to see if the cupcakes could be donated. She asked us to contact the hotel and see if it was possible to have the cupcakes donated, which in return we were told was not possible because it was against hotel policy since it was a liability.
The thing is, it is not actually illegal to donate the leftover food, it is just against hotel policy due to their fear of liability for the donation. Many people do not know this but the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act was created to allow people to make donations to the hungry without having to worry about being liable for any harm that may come from the donation.
What does the law do? The law protects good-faith donors from civil and criminal liability in the event that the product later causes harm to its recipients. The Emerson Act gives uniform protection to food donors who may cross state lines.
Who is protected? The law protects food donors, including individuals and nonprofit feeding programs that act in good faith. More specifically, the law protects individuals, corporations, partnerships, organizations, associations, government entities, wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, caterers, farmers, gleaners, nonprofit agencies, and others.
What sort of food is protected? The Emerson Act provides protection for food and grocery products that meet all quality and labeling standards imposed by federal, state, and local laws and regulations, even though the food may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions.
Where can I find a place to donate? Find a local food bank using the Food Bank Locator on Feeding America’s Web site. You just need to connect the local food bank and the catering firm, they will take care of all the details.
With the state of the current economy, food banks are having difficulty keeping their shelves full in order to help serve the hungry. As event planners we want to know how we can help out, especially when we have food that we could donate.
Next time you want to donate the leftover food from your event the best thing to do is contact event caterer early in the planning process and let them know this is something you want to do. Use the resources that are readily available and last but not least, do not take no for an answer!