Sued for donating food? Proposal would prevent good deeds from going punished

Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — By one estimate, 38 million Americans live in “food-insecure” households. By another estimate, America throws out nearly 40 percent of its food. How can those two facts coexist?

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) think part of the problem is the concern that a recipient of donated food could accuse the donor of providing spoiled food — and sue. In a joint release, the two said the “Food Donation Improvement Act” — which they jointly introduced — would alleviate that concern.

“Food donations make a big difference in the lives of many Americans, and Congress should make donating food to the less fortunate as easy as possible,” the release quoted Toomey as saying. “The bipartisan Food Donation Improvement Act will reduce food waste and help get more food to those who need it most by shielding good-faith donors from frivolous lawsuits.”

“This bill will eliminate legal roadblocks that discourage food donations by restaurants, retailers, and others,” the release quoted Blumenthal as saying. “I’m proud to partner with Senator Toomey on this bipartisan effort to enable timely and efficient food donations to Americans facing food insecurity.”

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How many would-be donations are actually prevented by current regulations — and would thus be enabled by the change? That’s difficult to say.

Amy Hill, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s director of community engagement and advocacy, said the food bank and its donors are already protected against liability and wouldn’t benefit directly from the legislation, which focuses on direct-to-consumer donations.

Still, Hill said, “We commend Senator Toomey and his efforts to raise awareness about this issue… We should all be concerned about the amount of food that gets wasted in this country and ask ourselves what we should do about it.”

An example of someone who might benefit more directly from the legislation? A stand at a farmers’ market could give unsold food directly to hungry people at the end of a day, Hill said, without fear of potentially being sued.

Hill said donated food generally meets the same standards as food purchased by consumers.

“This is perfectly good food. This is not food that has gone bad, that’s going to make you sick,” she said. “Perhaps somebody made too much, or they had an abundance of a crop.”

Andrea Karns, vice-president of sales and marketing for Karns Foods — a central Pennsylvania chain of 10 supermarkets — said Karns donates large quantities of food through organizations, rather than directly to individuals, but not because of liability.

The organizations “have the outlet set up, the pipeline in place, to make sure it gets to the final end consumer,” Karns said. She said each Karns store works with a partner nonprofit organization in its immediate vicinity to feed food-insecure families in the area.

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