Four-star meals for the needy
January 15, 2012
Leftover, still-edible food from Boston restaurants should be served up later in soup kitchens and food pantries around the city. There’s no good reason why day-old baked goods and vats of soup should fill dumpsters instead of hungry stomachs. But in Boston, much of that food doesn’t make it to the plates of those who need it because of two barriers: food-safety guidelines and the threat of lawsuits from the rare case of illness caused by donated foods. Fortunately, there are sound ways to address both concerns.
A bill on Beacon Hill would help eliminate the threat of lawsuits, and encourage more donations by offering restaurants a tax credit for the value of the leftover food that they give to charities. The Legislature should pass the bill quickly, especially since the donations to food pantries around the state have dipped in the down economy.
Many restaurateurs say they would donate excess foods if they could do so without the fear of lawsuits. The law would eliminate that threat by holding restaurants harmless in the event of illness thought to be caused by donated foods. According to the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, it’s not even clear under current laws whether a restaurant could be held liable; but whether it’s true or not, that perception stands in the way of many donations.
At the same time, the city should continue to enforce its strict food safety regulations, even if that means some donations must be thrown out. While tough, the regulations exist for a good reason: Meals served to people in need should be handled properly, just as if they were being served to paying costumers.
Fortunately, nonprofits, like Lovin’ Spoonfuls in Brookline, exist to help ensure leftover meals are delivered and handled properly. Rules providing that prepared foods stay at the right temperature are necessary; but at this point, much of the city’s leftovers are thrown out regardless of how they have been handled. A simple clarification to the law could change that. And with more food up for grabs, more of it would make it to the table instead of the trash.