Montgomery County councilmembers want food recovery program

Photo: DOliphant via Creative Commons

Americans waste 40 percent of the food we produce, and for the first time this Thursday, Montgomery County is convening potential players in what may be the first countywide food recovery program in the nation. It could be up and running by this summer.

Restaurants in Montgomery County alone waste close to 29,000 tons of food each year; supermarkets waste nearly 14,000 tons and public schools waste more than 5,000 tons of food.

“We want them to know they don’t have to throw that food away,” says Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who is spearheading a pioneer effort to recover food countywide and give it to the hungry.

“This is a big deal. We put this together very quickly with the support of all nine councilmembers so we’re rearing to go.”

They’re looking to the University of Maryland, whose student-run Food Recovery Network has now spread to 11 campuses nationwide. Each night volunteers collect dining hall food and take it to charities – no scraps – only what’s been prepared, but not served.

“These student volunteers collect 100, sometimes 200 pounds of perfectly good food a night, food that otherwise would just be thrown away,” says Ervin.

The county wants everyone on board: the public schools, grocery stores, hotels and restaurants.

At the Source Lounge in Silver Spring, owner Jason Miskiri likes the idea, but like many, is worried about liability.

Legally, if you had documents that said OK, we can’t get sued if we give this person this meal, assurances you’re not going to get sued? Exactly,” says Miskiri.

Except for gross negligence, businesses are protected.

“There’s a federal bill that not a lot of dining managers, restaurant managers know about. It’s called the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act. It actually clears all good faith donors from liability,” says Ben Simon, UMD Food Recovery founder.

But businesses might have to pay workers overtime to collect the leftovers and it’s unclear what the new program might cost. What is clear: there’s plenty of food and plenty who need it.