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Food Salvage for Campus

How to Start a Food Salvage Program on Your Campus

(Produced by SPOON, Stanford Project on Hunger, www.stanford.edu/group/spoon).  SPOON is a food salvaging group on Stanford campus, started in 1987.


A. The General System

 As the name indicates, food salvage programs are designed to save otherwise wasted food. Students arrange with the targeted eating establishment for edible, unserved food to be set aside after each meal rather than being thrown away. The food is packaged and stored until student volunteers come at the scheduled times to collect it. The schedule for collection times depends upon storage capacity and the quantity of food, and can vary from once a day to once a week. When collection takes place considerably after the packaging of the food, all perishables are kept frozen.

 The individuals responsible for deciding which food to donate must be trained in the health regulations regarding food safety. If the kitchen employees make the decisions, they usually already know the regulations. But if students are in charge of deciding which food to take, they must be made aware of the state health statutes.

 Then students either take the food directly to a local community agency, which serves hungry people in the community, or they store it in centralized freezers or refrigerators from which it is taken to a community agency later in the week. Alternatively, the program can also organize meals on its own, whereby volunteers directly prepare and serve the food to those in need (although this requires food preparation certificates from the state).

 Labeling the packages of food with the date of preparation, type of food, and perhaps the place of preparation can help those who eventually serve the food determine the quality of the food, particularly in cases where health issues are a concern. Maintaining records of the type, amount, and origin of food collected helps to keep track of the program's results and progress.

 The eating establishments from which the food is gathered can be either on campus dining service facilities, on‑campus eateries (e.g., the campus pizza place), or off campus restaurants and markets. Which type of establishment is most appropriate for a program to work with depends on the given campus location and resources, as well as the cooperation of the university. It also depends on whether outside groups already salvage food from local restaurants and markets.

 The general system is fairly simple and straightforward, but ensuring that each step is executed reliably and properly is essential to a food salvage program's success.


B. What's Needed to Get Started


In order to start a food salvage program, students must be certain that several things integral to a successful program exist on their campus, or must work to develop these things. Section C describes in greater detail how to go about obtaining any necessary elements that do not already exist.

 Eating Facilities Willing to Cooperate

 Obviously, no food salvage program can exist without the existence of eating facilities willing to save and donate their extra, unused food. Both on‑campus and off-campus eating establishments will work.

 Information on the Liability Laws Governing Food Donation

 The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 makes food salvaging much easier. It protects donors from liability when donating to a non-profit. This has become a standard, national law, whereas different states had different laws prior to this. For more information about the law, please see: http://www.secondharvest.org/partners/liability.html#text

 This law removes all liability of the donor if given in good faith (i.e. they didn’t intentionally harm the food).  One of the primary reasons eating establishments do not participate in food recovery programs is because of fear of liability. If questions of liability arise, give a full text of this law to the eating establishment and convince them they won’t be held liable.

 Community Agencies for Distribution of Food

 Unless students intend to serve the food themselves (in which case considerable food serving certifications, preparation and resources are required), local shelters, food pantries, or soup kitchens must exist to receive the food. Arrangements must be made for regular distribution of the collected food to one or more of these agencies.  When you call, explain the food salvaging program you are designing and find out who would be able to use food from your campus.  You must set up a system of drop-offs/pick-ups with the agency, either you drop-off the food or they come to your centralized freezer on campus to do a pick-up.  If you have no contacts in the community, the nationwide Second Harvest Food Bank system (http://www.secondharvest.org/) is the best place to start; they should be able to point you to someone.  Other places to call include: religious organizations (i.e. churches, synagogues), homeless shelters / soup kitchens, community service organizations, hunger, homeless, and poverty hotlines.

 Food Safety Training and Procedures

            It is important that your group gets food safety training as well as paperwork on safety procedures to follow.  The poor are the most vulnerable to food sickness, so this is very important.  Usually Second Harvest can provide this or point you to someone who can.


Sufficient means for recruiting and training volunteers to complete the necessary collection and distribution tasks must exist. Often, the campus community service center is a good resource for obtaining volunteers.


Automobiles will usually be necessary both for collecting the food from the donation sites and for distributing it to the community agencies from which the food is served.

 Storage Facilities and/or Freezers

Depending on the process used, a central storage freezer may be necessary to hold the food between the time it is collected and the time it is distributed. Sometimes the donation of a freezer can be solicited from a local restaurant, kitchen, or community agency.

 Packaging Materials

Unless the eating establishments are willing to use their own materials, the program will need to obtain packaging materials in which the kitchen employees package the food and the volunteers collect it. SPOON used to use bags designed for food salvaging, but local laws now require it to use aluminum trays.  Check with your local Second Harvest for their recommendations.  Labels will be necessary as well.


Unless some of the above items are donated, some funding for basic materials will be necessary. For programs intending to expand into other areas (see section D), additional funding may also be required. Community service centers and student governments can be good sources for funds. Alternative sources of funding are described at the end of Section C.


C. Establishing a Program

 Research and Planning

Before plunging directly into the operational aspects of beginning a program, it is wise to consider what sort of program would be most appropriate and effective on your campus. Students on campuses with sizable dining services would do well to consider starting with these on‑campus facilities. Campuses with small independent houses might benefit from beginning the program with a few of these houses that are willing to participate. Often, once the program succeeds with a few kitchens, others are more eager to cooperate. Alternatively, for campuses in urban areas, targeting outside restaurants or markets for collection may prove effective.

Three different types of student eating establishments are:

(1) Independent student houses (such as co‑ops, self‑ops, eating clubs, fraternities, sororities, etc.)

These are usually the smallest, least bureaucratic groups to deal with. They can usually make decisions to donate food easily. They have smaller amounts of food, which can be easier to deal with, but due to the fact that they are smaller and can often estimate the number of people eating, they often have little leftovers. Working with these type of groups is an excellent way of introducing the campus to the possibility of food salvage. It can generate newspaper articles that will be important when dealing with university administrators. If they have heard good things about your group, they are more likely to want to deal with you. Perhaps most importantly, starting with small quantities of food will allow you to (1) develop an effective distribution channel for getting the food from the dining halls to the soup kitchens, and (2) develop important relationships with hunger relief workers in the community.

(2) University food service (centralized dining halls, university‑run), National food service (centralized dining halls, run by companies such as Saga/Marriot Hosts, etc)

If your campus only has centralized food service you will have to work with administrators. The planning and start‑up time will be longer as you address liability and other issues (addressed later on). The benefit of working with centralized food service groups is the quantity of food you can salvage. In addition, once administrators feel comfortable with the project and that they are not going to "get in trouble," they can be very supportive. Remember they are professionals, this is their career and they are more cautious. The actual workers you will be dealing with after management has approved the program are usually very enthusiastic and cooperative about food salvage. They don't like the waste either. You should probably talk to them about starting "a pilot project" to see if it is a feasible idea for your university. You don't want to start talking right away about organizing the whole campus and thousands of pounds of food, because they will get scared and you will have trouble getting anywhere. It is important to keep in mind that when you are talking with administrators, you will have to change your "vocabulary." Instead of talking about the hungry and the homeless, which students are more interested in, you will need to address their concerns of waste and liability. It is simply a question of speaking the language and addressing the issues that they know.

 (3) Campus eateries (cafes, pizza places, student union)

            These eating facilities run somewhere between the aforementioned two types.  You probably won’t have to deal with university administration, but will have to deal with managers.

For dealing with the campus dining halls, find out how your university is organized:


(1)    Ask cooks, hashers about who manages them.

(2)    Check the directory for a "food service" office.

(3)    Check with "residential education", "facilities," or other groups that deal with organizing student living.

(4)    Many universities have several different types of living/eating organizations, so try to find out what the different operations around campus look like.


Early on it is important to start talking to the public service center on campus or the Student Affairs Department to inform them about what is going and start getting their support. When dealing with the administration at any level from cooks and hashers to the Food Service Director and the President of the University it is important that each person is informed about the project and feels like it is their own. If they feel like the program is simply coming from the top, it won't necessarily be implemented unless everyone within the hierarchy supports the project. Try to be sensitive to egos, this is especially important when working with cooks who may feel overworked and under appreciated. Working on this project you will learn a lot about the needs and concerns of different people throughout the university, try to be sensitive to these concerns.


"Peer support" is perhaps the most important concept in getting something accepted by the bureaucracy. Food Service Director will feel much more secure and therefore much more likely to support the project if they know that other food service directors have approved the project, that it is something happening across the country, and that they will not lose their job if they approve the project. You can tell them all of this, but it is much more convincing when it comes from one of their colleges. Stanford administrators (and perhaps administrators at other schools) are willing to write letters and talk to administrators at your school. Letters, phone calls, and news articles can greatly help convince administrators at your school to join the growing number of schools involved in food salvage.


You should also investigate whether your campus has facilities to store and/or freeze the food for the time in between pick‑up and distribution. If such storage is impossible, you will probably need to plan on transporting the food directly to community agencies.  During the planning stage, it is important to communicate with local outside programs that may already salvage food from local markets or restaurants. If such programs exist, they should be contacted to ensure that the new program will not overlap with the existing one. Also, the established program may be able to help the campus program by coordinating donation sites or providing transportation.


Contact and Communication

 1) The first concrete step involves approaching potential donor facilities. When explaining the program both to on‑campus cafeterias and to outside restaurants and markets, three points should be emphasized. 1) Because only food that would otherwise be thrown away is collected, participation in the program does not increase costs in the least. Rather, the program merely puts the extra food to good use. 2) Employees will have very, very little extra work to do from the program; they merely package and store the extra food instead of throwing it out. 3) The eating establishment will not be held liable should health problems result from consumption of their extra food. Presentation of the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act absolving good faith donors from legal responsibility should be enough to persuade them in this matter.

 The food service director will be the most important person to get excited about the project. The food service director might eventually turn you over to their assistant, but remember the director must support the project for it to go anywhere. Depending on the administrative structure, there may be other people the food service director reports to whose approval will be needed, but their involvement will be more symbolic. The food service director is the person who will be most concerned with the project. They are the people who will be most concerned about anything going wrong and jeopardizing their job. You must convince the food service director (or the legal department) that they are protected from liability (using the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act). When meeting with them feel free to discuss: ‑Waste on campus ‑Hunger in the community ‑Precedents set by other schools (like Stanford) ‑Support from faculty and hunger relief agencies ‑The legality of proposed operations (Good Samaritan Law) ‑Health codes that must be followed ‑Storage space needed from eating facility to freeze the food ‑The best time/day(s) of the week to bag and collect food ‑The convenience of having students relieve kitchens of leftover food.


2) Contact school staff members to gain support. You might try your school's  Public Service Center, the Dean of Students, or any faculty member. It is also important when dealing with the administration that you have other staff members supporting your project. One of their concerns is that the project will be run responsibly and that it will have continuity past the time even after the founder graduates.  You may have to register your student group to get full benefits.

3) Board of Health

Approval from your local Board of Health inspector may be necessary. Second Harvest Food Bank may be able to guide you through this process (or in many cases, provide the training themselves).


Together with the donor establishments, you should make a schedule of when the optimal times and days are for collecting their food. For on‑campus food services, the end of the week may work best, while for outside restaurants and markets, evenings may be optimal.

Community agencies that distribute food to needy people in the community must also be contacted. Together, you should arrange a schedule of times for bringing them the food. Sometimes, the agency may be able to periodically pick up the food from a central location on your campus.

Supplies and Arrangements

Before you can actually start the full‑fledged program, various nuts and bolts items need to be arranged. If you are using a storage/freezer space on campus to hold the food, it must be set up. If you are transporting the food directly to the receiving agencies, sufficient transportation must be arranged. Oftentimes, student cars prove adequate for this purpose. Also, containers or food salvaging plastic bags to hold the food must be obtained, either through purchase or donation. Sometimes, the eating establishments themselves will provide these. Labels are also needed for the food to be labeled with the date of preparation, type of food, and place of origin. 

Recruitment and Training

Most importantly, student volunteers will need to be recruited and trained. Often, campus community service centers or student activities centers are good sources for recruiting volunteers. Flyers, speaking at dormitory meetings, and advertisements in the campus newspaper are all also strong methods for creating interest in the program.

If the process involves having student volunteers decide which food is edible or in other ways handle the food, they should be trained in the state's health regulations regarding food safety. Volunteers will also, of course, need to be trained in the process of picking up, storing, and delivering the food. One key point to instill in volunteers is the importance of reliability in their work. The time commitment involved in periodically collecting and transporting the food is often minimal. But if volunteers skip days when they are expected to work, the kitchens usually have no choice but to throw the food out either because they lack the necessary storage space or because the food will not keep. Not only is this a waste of food, but that much less food is available for hungry people in the community who need it. Reliability on the part of the volunteers is essential.

At this point, the actual process can be initiated, and the food salvaging can begin! As the program progresses, changes and innovations will undoubtedly occur. The experience of other campus food salvage programs indicates that it is important to adapt to changes and new opportunities, but also important to keep the program's goals in mind.

Organizational Structure

As the program grows, implementing certain other components can strengthen its efficiency and results. An organizational system of coordinators may improve the execution of various duties, such as setting schedules, recruiting and training volunteers, and maintaining communication with both donor establishments and community agencies. One system of organization, which has proven effective for other programs, involves breaking down responsibilities by type of work. For example, one coordinator is in charge of volunteers, another of finances, another of publicity, another of communication with community agencies, etc. For campuses that collect from various types of eating establishments, another form of organization involves assigning each coordinator a type of facility to be in charge of. You may need to experiment a bit before you find a system that works for your program.



Funding is another item that may become necessary as your program grows. Depending on what sorts of resources required and the extent to which you can solicit donations, some regular funding may be required for you to maintain your program. Many schools have funds available for projects that serve the community. Check with your school's community service center, the student activities center, and the student government. Alternatively, fund‑raisers can be an effective way to raise money, particularly at events held in coordination with other hunger or homelessness groups. Hunger Awareness Weeks, benefit concerts, and fasts can all be effective fund‑raising efforts.  Alternatively, some programs have received funding through grants from local companies or non‑profit organizations. You may want to investigate whether any companies, foundations, or non‑profit organizations in your area are interested in funding a food salvage initiative.

D. Expansions and Elaborations

Once the process is working and your program is running smoothly, you may wish to expand activities beyond just the actual physical salvaging of food. One way to do this involves exploring other approaches to addressing hunger and homelessness issues. The most common route taken is to encourage volunteers to spend time working at the community agencies to which they deliver the food. Working directly with the community they are serving can give students a more immediate experience with hunger issues and a new perspective on the need for food salvage programs. Sometimes, even when no organized trips are planned, students delivering food volunteer their time out of interest. But organizing trips can encourage more students to work and can connect the work with food salvaging.


Alternatively, you may wish to organize educational events such as a campus speaker series on hunger issues. Some campus food salvage programs have used their connection with the community agencies to which they distribute food to obtain speakers experienced in hunger and homelessness issues. Working with other campus groups to organize joint events such as a Hunger Awareness Week or an advocacy campaign is another possible way to expand your program's approach to hunger issues beyond food salvaging. In the course of educational events, you may wish to emphasize the issues of food waste and the important role food salvaging can play in addressing hunger. Placing food salvaging in the greater context of eliminating hunger can give greater meaning to the work volunteers are completing.

Because food salvage volunteers generally work by themselves or in pairs, an occasional volunteer social event gives them the chance to meet each other. Such informal social events can be combined with a speaker or other educational event.

Also, some form of recognition of volunteers' service can contribute to their morale and satisfaction. Thank‑you letters after each term can be combined with any information or news you want to give volunteers. If they are merited, awards for outstanding volunteer performance may also be a good idea.

E. Additional Reminders

    Remember that the resources and characteristics of your campus will shape your program.  Furthermore, the type of food services and/or restaurants in your area, and the needs of your community will be determining factors. This packet is meant only as a guide, not as a recipe to be strictly followed. Be flexible and willing to adapt to the capabilities and needs of your campus. Your program will be stronger as a result.

Don't become discouraged if your program starts out small during its first year. Some of the most successful campus food salvage programs began on a very small scale.

Don't be afraid to cite other schools' successes when trying to persuade your school's administration or food services to cooperate.

Feel free to contact the Stanford Project on Hunger (SPOON) with any questions, comments, or ideas you have about starting a program or about food salvaging in general. Please check out our website for more resources designed to help students start a food salvage program.



It could take a few years to develop a campus wide food salvaging program. There are still eating facilities at Stanford which do not contribute their food to SPOON. It is important to remember that every step in developing your program is significant. Saving even a few pounds of‑ food can eliminate waste and ensure that one less person goes hungry for a day. It Is most likely that if you start this program anywhere on campus, it will spread to other places because the program makes too much sense to be ignored. When excess edible food exists, nothing could be better than giving that food to hungry people.

Even if you don't have any questions, we'd both love to hear how your program is progressing. Good luck!!


Stanford Project on Hunger

website: www.stanford.edu/group/spoon
email: spoon@haas.stanford.edu
mailing list: spoon-hunger@lists (email majordomo@lists.stanford.edu and write "subscribe spoon-hunger"

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