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Student Food Activists Face Challenge in Distributing Donations to Charities

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A group of college students from around the country -- including a few local LA campuses -- are chipping in to make sure that their campus' leftovers don't end up in the dumpster, and instead end up doing good. They've banded together to create an organization called the Food Recovery Network that's helping distribute prepared foods from their dining halls on campus to local charities.

Student activists from Pamona College and Claremont McKenna College are part of the collation, as are UC Berkeley, University of Maryland in College Park, Brown University, University of Texas at Austin, Providence College and the Rhode Island School of Design. At Pamona, for example, a group of students carts the food from their campus to a local shelter, which takes a total of one hour door to door.

Their work could serve as a blueprint for other outside organizations and restaurants to help make good with their waste, but it won't come easy. Because of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act, many charities can't accept the food because of laws regarding how food needs to be kept and stored. The Act protects the schools (and other donors) from liability if someone gets sick, but not the organizations that actually distribute the food to the less fortunate.

That hasn't stopped many charities from accepting donations, but things have gotten a little tricky. The L.A. Times illustrates the issue:

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The federal Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act shields most donors from legal liability. But it doesn't protect charities receiving donated food, which must ensure that any meals served meet all local and state health requirements. For example, the temperature of prepared food must be closely monitored to prevent bacteria from sneaking in. California requires that hot food be kept above 135 degrees Fahrenheit and cold food below 45 degrees during transportation.

Not knowing whether such rules have been met prompts many potential food recipients, such as shelters and food pantries, to decline offers of prepared meals... What's needed is an organization, or a network of organizations, licensed by county health officials to guarantee that safety standards are being met throughout the food collection and delivery process. Such a guarantee would help mitigate recipients' legal risk.

In order to protect all parties involved, there would also need to be some sort of packaging and transport standards for donors. (The students at Pamona have trained dining hall staff pack the food to ensure it's done correctly.) And it also has to be transported safely.

Of course all of this costs time and money. But is it worth it? We'd say so.