Kentucky Is Making It Easier for Organizations to Donate Extra Food

They may be imperfect, but they're perfectly good—and a new Kentucky law will soon make it easier to donate food like this to those in need.

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On July 1, it will be a whole lot easier for food companies and farmers in Kentucky to donate their extras to those in need thanks to a new law passed by the state’s legislature that protects retailers from frivolous lawsuits.

The “Food Immunity Bill,” which was signed into law by Kentucky Governor Mike Bevin in March, offers enhanced legal protections for retailers to donate packaged, shelf-stable food as well as for farmers to donate produce to food banks and non-profits. The bill was first proposed by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and introduced in the House by Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown.  According to Quarles, the law provides legal assurance that companies can donate food without fear of litigation.

“We had found that there are organizations out there that wanted to donate food but were hesitant to do that because they were afraid of a frivolous lawsuit,” Quarles told the Public News Service.

In the U.S., up to 10 percent of packaged food is discarded due to things like the packaging is damaged or the item’s been overstocked, among other reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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The state law helps reinforce a federal law, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, passed back in 1996 that protects retailers from liability, but isn’t without issue. For instance, the law doesn’t allow companies to donate foods that are past the manufacturer’s sell by date (Sell by dates don’t necessarily reflect an item’s freshness). A bill was introduced in Congress in February to expand and update the law by changing the rules on sell by dates that don’t pertain to food safety, among other things, but it’s currently sitting in committee. (For a deeper dive—no pun intended—on this legislation, check out this Wastedive.com piece).

Meanwhile, the Kentucky law bridges the gap by providing liability protection to grocery stores and caterers, among other organizations, that donate food items meeting the federal and state consumer safety standards but aren’t sellable due to things like “appearance, age, date labeling, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, applauded the law, saying many companies continue to “face barriers to food donation, and one of the leading obstacles is a prohibitive fear of liability.”

“We support efforts to further enhance liability protections, as this bill does,”  Rosie Hilmer, the organization’s media relations director, tells Modern Farmer.

Kentucky Is Making It Easier for Organizations to Donate Extra Food