In Rhode Island, over 100,000 tons of food enter landfills each year. At the same time, nearly 1 in 3 households in the state can’t afford adequate food. When businesses reduce their surplus food, donate edible surplus, and divert food scraps from the waste stream, it can have dramatic environmental and economic impacts. Earlier this year, we talked to businesses across the state to better understand where, when, and how food surplus occurs, what strategies businesses are using to prevent and minimize surplus, and what motivations and tools exist to prevent and redistribute surplus food in Rhode Island. This outreach offered an opportunity to engage food business owners throughout the state in order to discuss these questions and gain key insights about how Rhode Island businesses are approaching surplus food.
Our team contacted over 200 businesses throughout the state of Rhode Island to offer them an opportunity to share their insights about their food waste prevention efforts, challenges, and successes. These discussions allowed CET to synthesize and organize findings into several common themes. Based on these findings, we conducted a webinar with a target audience of Rhode Island food businesses and conducted in-person outreach at the Rhode Island Seafood Showcase. Rhode Island services and future projects will be tailored to the results of these conversations.
We were able to have valuable discussions with sixteen businesses. Respondents included full-service restaurants, limited-service restaurants, grocery stores, and a deli. While the businesses are located throughout the state of Rhode Island, most of them are concentrated in Providence and Middletown. Almost seventy percent of the businesses we interviewed reported practicing food waste prevention techniques. Common strategies included strategic ingredient purchasing to minimize waste, training kitchen staff for more efficient food prep, reusing or repurposing food scraps or leftover meals, and tracking food waste using written or digital forms. Such a diverse range of strategies shows that Rhode Island businesses are committed to reducing wasted food.
At the same time, only three of the businesses reported that they regularly donate excess food to local nonprofits or food banks. Many factors contribute to this decision, such as logistical issues and not having enough surplus food to donate regularly. However, one commonly cited reason for not donating food was legal concerns. The federal protects American food businesses and nonprofits from civil and criminal liability when donating food in good faith. Additionally, Rhode Island’s Immunity from Liability for Food Donations Law provides additional legal protection on the state level. For more information about liability protections for food donation in Rhode Island, see . Most of the businesses we interviewed were not aware of these existing laws and expressed concerns about potential liability if they were to donate their excess food.
Food business owners in Rhode Island are already working to reduce the amount of surplus food that they produce. The businesses we interviewed primarily focused on implementing strategies to prevent surplus food from being created in the first place, also known as source reduction. At the same time, many of those same business owners expressed liability concerns around food donation. To address these concerns, CET worked with the MEANS Database and Rescuing Leftover Cuisine to hold a webinar event discussing food donation for Rhode Island businesses.
Additionally, throughout the process, several businesses shared their best advice for reducing food waste. For example, Makayla Habershaw, Tasting Room Manager and Marketing Director of Industrious Spirit Company, joined our webinar event to discuss ISCO’s food waste prevention efforts. She suggested that food business owners build specific time into their schedule to think about food waste reduction and sustainability strategies. She also shared her business’s specific tips, such as carefully calculating how much inventory is needed every season based on customer demand, freezing leftover citrus to use later, and prioritizing local suppliers. Learning directly from businesses that have successfully implemented food waste prevention strategies allows us to share best practices across the state and the region.
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