The statistics are staggering: One in five children goes to bed hungry every night in America, while 40 percent of food in this country is sent to the landfill, according to a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. There is an immediate solution to redirecting this excess wasted food to families in need, but fear is choking the supply chain.
It began with four enterprising Arizona State University students — Jake Irvin, Eric Lehnhardt, Steven Hernandez and Katelyn Kaberle — who created a mobile app called FlashFood. FlashFood allows restaurants, caterers and conventions to notify the mobile network of excess food, which mobilizes a FlashFood team to pick up and deliver the items to community centers for immediate distribution to local residents.
The FlashFood team’s concept to help curb food waste and feed the hungry was so compelling that they won the U.S. finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup. The app has also been featured in Fast Company magazine, TreeHugger, and the Dell Social Innovation Challenge.
ASU asked our cause marketing firm to mentor FlashFood to help them perfect their story. Our work with FlashFood was chronicled in a Microsoft documentary that followed FlashFood’s journey to the Imagine Cup’s international competition in Sydney, Australia.
Despite the great accolades and early successes for this inventive social enterprise, where the need on both sides of the table for saving food and serving the hungry is ideally paired, FlashFood is struggling. A concept that works in a theoretical environment confronts new challenges in the free market.
According to Eric Lehnhardt, restaurant managers immediately get the concept. “‘This is so great,’ they’ll say, ‘but I want to see it working with someone else and then we’ll do it,’” Lenhardt said.
The challenge for FlashFood is that business owners are worried about safe food-handling practices and their potential liability should someone get sick. The FlashFood team answers by employing a licensed food manager that directs a team of licensed food handlers. However, the greatest opportunity to overcome the “liability barrier” is the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that protects food donors, including individuals, and nonprofit feeding programs when food is donated in good faith.
While exceptions are made for gross negligence, the law states that test groups will not be subject to civil or criminal liability. More specifically, the law protects individuals, corporations, partnerships, organizations, associations, governmental entities, wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, caterers, farmers, gleaners, nonprofit agencies, and more.
“I’m surprised at how few restaurant owners are aware of the protection they have under the Good Samaritan Act,” said Lenhardt. “Our job isn’t so much about selling the concept of our food recovery model as it is in raising awareness about the Act.”
Other food recovery programs, such as Waste Not, handle perishable foods that have a longer shelf life, including ingredients, packaged foods and frozen goods. FlashFood, on the other hand, picks up and delivers recently prepared foods that need to be kept within specific temperature ranges and consumed within hours. This represents the bulk of the food that is currently being thrown out, and the items that have food businesses concerned.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it falls in safe food-handling practices,” Lenhardt added. “We just need the pioneers and early adopters in the food business to embrace our model.”
In addition to helping to curb waste and feed the needy, business owners can receive tax deductions for their contributions.
The one in five children who go to bed hungry every night would gladly accept the excess food that can easily find their tables every day and night through FlashFood. If they knew about the liability concerns of the restaurateur, they’d probably view them as being a little shortsighted.
Welcome to the real world, FlashFood. And thank you for trying to help us feed it.