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Don’t legislate my leftovers

In response to his July 27 column about requiring restaurants and food service companies to donate leftover food, I have this to say to David Lazarus: Go find something else to legislate.

My business is off-premise catering. As a responsible food provider, I must meet safety guidelines for what I serve. As a human being, I participate in giving back to the community and helping those in need. And as a business owner, I need to make sure my enterprise operates on financially sound footing. None of these objectives would be served by what Lazarus says ought to be law.

Food waste at the end of an event is a fact of life. No food industry professional wants to have steam-table pans full of food at the end of a meal service. The goal is to come out as close as we can, after serving everyone, without wasting too much product. And though it kills me to throw food away, I must do it. There are health regulations by which we all must abide. With all the goodwill in the world, I don’t feel comfortable donating all food at the end of an event. The Good Samaritan Act protecting food donors is a nice idea, but it doesn’t totally absolve me of liability.

As a rule, the food service and hospitality industries — restaurants, hotels, caterers and so on — have big hearts when it comes to feeding the community. We host fundraisers, give back to the neighborhood and help those in need. Often some on our staff have connections with their places of worship or other charities, and they will be the ones to transport the edible leftovers to those in need after an event. This is a low-cost way to get usable food to people who need it.

Which brings me to the cost of Lazarus’ plan. When a client and I plan to donate food, it costs me money. Let’s imagine I have taken all the leftover food back to our kitchen. I then have to have someone transfer the food to disposable containers (I pay for the containers). I spend my time calling around to find out which local agency can take the food (this is often not an insignificant step). Then one of my staff has to drive the food over, in my van with my gas, and then drive back (the biggest challenge for many of these charitable organizations is transportation, as they often do not have trucks, volunteers or sufficient demand to be able to come and pick up the food). At every step of the way, I am paying an employee.

Yet despite all this, I still donate food. I still try to help my fellow humans. I still try to do good.

So let me do the best I can. Just don’t over-legislate and make it more complicated.

Ann A. Crane is president of Irvine-based Meyerhof’s Fine Catering.


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