Food recovery program urges grocery stores to donate

OLNEY, Md. (WJLA) – Ed Conley scans cartons of milk and yogurt that Safeway is donating to charity that Tuesday morning. These items, along with other foods deemed unsellable but are still safe to eat, are wheeled out for the less fortunate every day.

“The box is crushed, that's all, you know? I know somebody can eat that,” he says.

“We serve about 3,500 people or households a month,” says Jenna Umbriac with the Manna Food Center. “So you can tell that we really, really need every bit of food that we can get.”

Montgomery County’s “Emerging Food Recovery Program” is recruiting all grocery stores to donate rather than dump.

“If we can do that and not have the health inspectors on top of us, absolutely! It has to be done!” says shopper Joan Cranmer.

Safeway spokesman Greg Ten Eyck notes that the “sell by” dates are not exact expiration dates – the food is still good for several more days. And though many stores are protected under Good Samaritan laws, some are still leery of signing on to the food recovery program.

“They don't want the bad publicity that would come if someone got this food and got sick and they traced it back to the store,” says Ten Eyck. “So we have to overcome that hurdle.”

But not everything is up for donation – food banks don’t take past-peak flowers or overripe or damaged produce. Instead, it all ends up back at Safeway. Rather than paying to haul the items to a landfill where it just takes up space and creates greenhouse gases, the store actually sells them to a composting company and even gains a bit of profit.

Add tax breaks and good PR, and the hope is that grocery stores will all go the way of Safeway – helping the needy in addition to the environment.