Seeking a solution to wasted food

"We serve 2,400 meals every day," he said. "We couldn't afford to have our kitchen closed down because of something like this."

Does this mean prepared food can never be donated to the those in need? No.

The trick, Marler and Pritzker said, is to create procedures that mitigate a charity's risk. For example, a nonprofit group could be formed specifically to pick up, store and transport leftovers from hotels and restaurants at regular intervals.

That nonprofit, working with local health authorities, would be in a position to ensure that safety standards are met and thus would be able to demonstrate that all parties are acting in good faith — the central tenet of the Good Samaritan law.

Angelica Pappas, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Assn., said her group would be interested in working with a qualified nonprofit that could assist in food donations. "It's something we're exploring," she said.

Roughly 1.5 million tons of food is thrown out each year by California caterers, hotels and restaurants, according to the state Integrated Waste Management Board.

Meanwhile, 3.7 million adults statewide struggled to put food on the table in 2009, the latest year for which numbers are available from the California Health Interview Survey, conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

So props to Sher and the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Assn. for wanting to do right by others, and props to Union Rescue Mission for making sure that the food it serves people is safe.

There are solutions to the enormous amount of food wasted annually. But it will take a concerted effort by all concerned to remedy the problem.

Seems to me it's an effort worth making.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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