“The federal government sets ridiculous food policy at a time when our citizens are suffering with hunger! We have kids developing nutrition related long term mental and physical health conditions and seniors supplementing their diets with what they find in the dumpster and both groups are being told that fresh cooked foods cannot be taken from distribution sites.” said state Rep. Richard Morrissette, (D-OKC).
The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 was passed and signed by President Clinton to strip away liability concerns for restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and other venues wishing to donate fresh as well as packaged foods to the hungry but policies of the nation’s Department of Health and Human Services continue to dissuade and confuse those at the local level wishing to be a part of the hunger solution.
“I’ve filed HB1418, the Josephine Meade Anti-Hunger Act, to bring some clarity to the issue of liability. We are seeing significant amounts of food waste because those in a position to donate are fearful.”
Presently, federally funded senior nutrition centers do not allow patrons to take leftover food away from the site, not even to a homebound spouse or partner, due to food safety concerns. Extra portions are also not allowed to be distributed.
Another source of nutrition ending up in local landfills is unserved restaurant food. As many of Oklahoma’s needy no longer have functioning kitchens, thousands of pounds of unserved restaurant food could serve up a nutritious solution. Owners of Oklahoma restaurants have had little guidance on the liability issue and tend to donate sporadically and without public notice as to draw as little attention as possible.
HB1418 directs the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to create rules to update Oklahoma’s statutes to reflect the will of the Good Samaritan Act and to include the 2004 findings on food allergens.
“OSU has developed for us a simple one page guide that can be posted on the State Health Department’s website and that can be a point of reference for our restaurant owners regarding food allergens. The act of taking cooked food from a site is no riskier than taking home a doggy bag from a restaurant,” Morrissette said.
“We’re just coming out of the 2nd worst economic period in our nation’s history. And, if that’s not enough, I think we are also forgetting previous lessons learned about food waste as hundreds of depression era survivors leave us every day. Oklahoma is one of the hungriest places in America with more than one half million food insecure and another seventy six thousand with severe food disruption.”
Josephine Meade, for whom the bill is named, was an anti-hunger fighter during the Great Depression and many of her family now live in Oklahoma.