Just 3% of surplus food ends up being donated, with the greatest portion coming from grocery retail. Despite the large amount of produce left behind after harvest, producers donate just 1.7% of the surplus they generate (excluding gleaning). Distribution and logistics challenges contribute to this imbalance and are also the reason why most food donations are of processed, shelf-stable items that are easier to transport and store. As a result, many food relief agencies purchase fruits, vegetables, and other perishables for distribution rather than rely on donations.
Strengthening food rescue means furthering the rescue of high-quality, nutritious food by increasing the capacity of food relief agencies, addressing distribution bottlenecks, and improving communication flow. A stronger food rescue system requires expanded storage, transportation, and staffing capacity within food rescue organizations – as well as a consistent flow of goods from food business donations, which can be achieved from implementing solutions like business education or coordination and matching technologies that make food donation easier. The capture and sharing of real- or near-time data can play a key role in enabling more food to be donated and identifying gaps to fill. As solutions in this action area are implemented, it’s critical to maintain an emphasis on the health and dignity of the end recipients – the more than 50 million Americans struggling with food insecurity.
Historically, non-government grants and tax incentives have helped “untrap” food in supply chains to funnel towards food rescue. Public funding and impact-first investors can play a significant role in building out physical and educational infrastructure related to sourcing, processing, and transporting rescued food. As a traditionally volunteer-driven enterprise, food rescue is now also seeing new alternative business models successfully emerging, especially when paired with philanthropic grants and policy change. Policy has a core role to play in expanding liability protections, clarifying food safety guidance, and improving tax incentives, which alone can support nearly half of the recommended solutions.