New Technology Helps Curb Food Waste

The pandemic economy emphasizes the importance of distributing food to the hungry.

July 30, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Up to 40% of food worldwide is wasted, and in the United States and other developed nations that number is likely even higher, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

With the disruptions caused by COVID-19, grocers have many challenges, according to Progressive Grocer. They must respond to variables in supply/demand, overcome supply chain interruptions and adapt to unprecedented and immediate public health. But solving the issue of food waste also is a pressing issue.

The economic strain resulting from the pandemic has caused many people to experience food insecurity for the first time in their lives. That means food waste is no longer just about taking leftover food and putting it to good use. It is about effecting change to help people in need.

Traditional brick-and-mortar grocers can turn unsold fresh meat, seafood and produce into prepared food items. But pandemic-era dark stores, warehouse operators and larger grocery delivery companies don’t have that flexibility. As the pandemic fuels the rapid growth of this sector, there’s a prime opportunity to consider the impact grocery e-commerce may have on waste throughout the supply chain.

After stints with Deloitte and the U.S. EPA, Ricky Ashenfelter launched Spoiler Alert, a Boston-based software company that helps food businesses manage unsold inventory. Spoiler Alert helps food manufacturers and distributors with software designed to identify sources of shrink and excess in their operations and then tap into food donation networks and discount channels. Grocers can then provide non-sellable or otherwise unused inventory to food banks and food pantries, where the food “waits” to be distributed or delivered to those in need.

Goodr, a technology startup in Atlanta, aims to reduce waste using a mobile app that connects businesses with local charities to facilitate deliveries of unsold or unused edibles via third-party service providers, such as DoorDash or Roadie.

Through underlying blockchain technology that tracks food waste, Goodr enables grocers to generate and collect valuable data that can be analyzed to help solve inefficiencies that lead to excess food. Goodr wants to use technology to go beyond wasted food use, and eventually reduce and even eliminate excess food from the outset.

In addition, education can help tackle food waste. Many grocers and suppliers do not have an accurate understanding of the legal risks involved. There is a common perception that donating food exposes retailers to lawsuits if someone on the receiving end becomes ill. But in 1996, Congress passed the “Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act,” which protects grocers from civil and criminal liability when donating food that “may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions.” According to the Act, “if a food donation that was made in good faith later causes an injury, the donor will not be held liable for that injury.”

The food industry needs to continuously inform and educate the grocery industry on the Act, which was “news” 24 years ago, long before many of today’s grocery professionals entered the industry.

For more on how c-stores can minimize food waste in their operations, read “Waste Not, Want Not: Minimizing food waste is essential for a profitable foodservice program” in the August 2019 issue of NACS Magazine.