Be a good samaritan – enactment of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act

Be a good samaritan – enactment of the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act – Editorial

David Fusaro

Washington has just delivered a great opportunity dairy industry and for food banks nationwide. The “Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” was passed by the House of Representatives last month, following earlier Senate approval, and was sent on to the President for signing. A signing ceremony was expected just after we went to press.

This legislation would remove the final legal liabilities that prevent some food processors from donating food to charities. It would be especially beneficial to the dairy industry, where issues of spoilage are of greater concern than contamination. There are two mains points to this law. First, as a national law, it supersedes similar laws in all 50 states, strengthening the protection given food donors and providing a uniform standard for the whole country.

Also, it specifies that a “gross negligence” standard apply to donor companies in terms of liability, rather than “strict liability.” While steeped in legalese, the essential difference, I’m told, is that donor companies need only to ensure that their food donation was safe and wholesome when it left their hands. If something happens to the food afterward, it would be nearly impossible to prove gross negligence on the part of the donor.

Rest assured, this proposed law does not give food makers a free hand to unload tainted food and reap the tax benefits.

“All quality and labeling standards and regulations of federal, state and local governments would continue to apply to their donations,” Christine Vladimiroff, president and CEO of Second Harvest National Food Bank Network, said in Congressional testimony. “Food can be donated that is not readily marketable because of appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus amounts or other conditions, but is otherwise wholesome and safe for consumption.”

In her testimony, Vladimiroff quoted the director of a food bank in St. Joseph, Mo.: “Our local Wal-Mart Supercenter, one of the largest grocery retailers in the area, would donate … perishable items if there were such a uniform act. As a result, each week at least 2,500 pounds of food valued at $1,000 would be available for our community’s hungry people.”

The food charities are doing their job, too. “Despite the fact that Foodchain programs have never had a single incident of food-borne illness, this legislation is very much needed,” says Christina Martin, Foodchain director. “Our programs can guarantee the safety of the donation once it is picked up, but this bill will get us in the front door of many potential national food donors.”

The food industry has been good to Second Harvest, Foodchain and other food rescue programs. Last year, Second Harvest alone handled more than a billion pounds of food, 90% of which came from private companies. However, in a 1993 study, only 15 million pounds of dairy products were included in the Second Harvest collections. I would think that number should be higher.

With the passage of the Good Samaritan Act, now there’s really no excuse not to donate unsalable food to charity. That’s a challenge we make to all you dairy processors. I look forward to a future Second Harvest report on donations that includes dairy contributions much higher than 15 million pounds.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Business News Publishing Co.

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