Retail Rescue

Retail Rescue: Reducing Food Waste

Tackling the problems of hunger and food waste

Food Donations Manager Cheryl Powers oversees the Retail Rescue programIn August of 2016, the Food Bank hired Cheryl Powers, who previously worked for 18 years at the Greater Boston Food Bank, to run our Food Solicitation and Donation program. Cheryl describes her mission as “getting as much food as we can for those who need it the most.”

As Food Donations Manager, Cheryl runs Retail Rescue, working with local and national retailers to connect them with our member agencies and turn food that would otherwise be considered “food waste” into food donations.

The Retail Rescue program works as a win-win for both the food industry and for agencies distributing food. Retailers are no longer paying for food to be disposed of, while agencies get food donations that they immediately give out to their clients. In most cases, retailers are donating to the very communities they serve. Click here for a list of our participating retailers.

What is food waste?

Thousands of pounds of unsold but good food are thrown away by the food industry. This “food waste” can exist because there wasn’t enough demand for particular items, they’re still safe for consumption yet have passed their “sell by” date (freshly-baked bread, for example), or because the product wasn’t particularly appealing to customers (think dented cans or oddly-shaped fruits and vegetables that you pass over on grocery store shelves). The issue of having 51,000 food insecure households in Rhode Island while edible food is destroyed shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Retail Rescue to the… rescue!

How does it work? Well, “rescued” food typically comes from one of five categories:

  • Frozen meat
  • Dairy
  • Produce (fruits, vegetables)
  • Baked goods (breads, bagels, muffins, etc.)
  • “Salvage” (food in unsaleable containers that nonetheless are perfectly fine, for example, dented cans)

Scanning meat food donationsEach Food Bank member agency is paired with one or two stores and will regularly pick up donated food. All agencies are trained and required to follow food safety standards to prevent the perishable food items from spoiling.

Once back at the agency, the food will then be distributed to Rhode Islanders who need it. In 2016, about 70 retailers and 40 agencies managed to distribute 1 million pounds through the Retail Rescue program.

Challenges in Rhode Island

One of the issues facing Retail Rescue in Rhode Island is the small size of the food industry in the state. At the same time, the food industry is getting more and more efficient at reducing waste, meaning that there is less excess food to donate. Since the need for food assistance has remained relatively high, this makes getting food to those who need it that much more difficult. Cheryl’s task is to increase the amount of food donated, despite high demand and better efficiencies in the industry.

Participating Retailers