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Webinar Review: Best Practices for Food Safety in Food Donation

This post was written by Tori Oto, FLPC clinical student.


  • Clarifying food safety laws and regulations that apply to food donation can increase food donation and reduce confusion among donors and food recovery organizations alike
  • Collaborating with food system stakeholders and government officials at all levels of government can ensure donation guidance addresses existing barriers to donation 

Wrapping up a webinar series on regulatory and policy barriers to food donation, the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), Food Systems for the Future, and the United Nations Environment Programme virtually  convened policymakers on April 13, 2022 to discuss the ways by which food safety laws and regulations can motivate or stifle food donation. The webinar series was organized under the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas project, a partnership between FLPC and GFN, with support from the Walmart Foundation. Spotlighting government officials and food donation experts from the European Union, United States, India, and the United Kingdom, the webinar explored lessons learned and policy considerations surrounding food safety regulations for food donation. 

The lack of knowledge or readily available guidance about the food safety procedures that potential food donors must follow when donating food can be a barrier to the donation of wholesome, surplus food in many countries. When donors are uncertain about which food safety regulations apply to donated food, they are more likely to direct safe, edible food to landfills rather than people in need. The Global Food Donation Policy Atlas found that clarifying food safety regulations for food donation may ease donor concerns and increase food donation. 

The webinar began with a presentation by Kris de Smet and Cristina Lisetchi, both from the European Commission, who began with an overview of the overall European food loss and waste platform, the European Union’s food safety regulatory framework, and lessons learned in developing this framework. Kris noted that food safety regulations must be permissive enough to enable food donation, but stringent enough to avoid regulatory loopholes that end up incentivizing food waste or compromising the safety of donated food. They shared the European Commission food donation guidelines as a beneficial resource for those in the audience seeking to develop similar food safety guidance. 

The webinar then transitioned into a discussion moderated by Ertharin Cousin, CEO and Founder of Food Systems for the Future. Panelists discussed the pros and cons of different food safety regulatory models and shared best practices on how to work with food system stakeholders to increase food donations. Heena Yadav, from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), noted that even though India is now regarded as one of the model examples of effective food safety regulations for food donation—with the Surplus Food Regulations that specifically detail food donation activities–even she and her colleagues struggled at first to convey to government officials the need for action in the food safety and donation space. Echoing previous comments from Cristina Lisetchi and Kris de Smet,  Ian Bowles from the UK NGOWaste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), similarly noted the importance of engaging with officials at all levels of government and stakeholders across the food system. Multisectoral collaboration not only ensures that any food safety regulations are clear, but also helps key stakeholders understand that improved food safety regulations and guidance are helpful tools not regulatory burdens. 

A common best practice emphasized by the panelists was to write clear, concise guidance that is not overly technical, keeping in mind that the intended audience of the guidance is operations personnel working in food businesses. Ian Bowles provided an overview of WRAPs published best practice ‘Redistribution Labelling Guide,’ developed in partnership with the UK government, which includes advice on date labelling and storage instruction requirements for surplus food for safe redistribution. Melissa Hammer, from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), shared that the impetus for developing guidance was feedback from food banks about the hurdles they faced to legally donate food. In response, the USDA published draft guidance to ease concerns and confusion surrounding donation of meat or poultry (the primary items under USDA food safety oversight) without jeopardizing food safety. 

Multiple panelists identified that broad stakeholder engagement supports and improves the overall food donation effort. Ian Bowles shared how WRAP works collaboratively with UK retailers, food manufacturers and redistribution organizations to enable collective action to increase both the volumes, and types, of food surplus made available for redistribution. Heena Yadav highlighted India’s Save Food, Share Food Initiative, the technology platform that connects food businesses and food recovery organizations when food businesses find they have surplus food to donate. Launched in three cities thus far, Save Food, Share Food will continue to scale its impact.

Remarks from these panelists underscore the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas project’s finding that clear, concise regulations and guidance on food safety rules is a crucial part of the food donation regulatory space. Strong food safety policy exists when the government outlines distinct food safety requirements that apply to donated food in food safety laws, policies, or regulations and offers clear, useful guidance on food safety for donations. 

A detailed companion issue brief on food safety that will identify common obstacles in the food donation and food safety space as well as best practices to overcome those obstacles is forthcoming. Though this webinar series has concluded, FLPC and GFN welcome continued open conversations around how countries around the world can use regulation as a tool to increase food donation. FLPC invites government officials, policymakers from international and multilateral organizations, and any other interested parties to reach out for further information at flpc@law.harvard.edu.

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