Ambiguities in both the state and federal law regarding food donation liability will be addressed with the Governor's signature upon HB1418, the Josephine Meade Anti-Hunger Act. The goal of this legislation is to end the practice of discarding unserved food, rather than to donate, because the donor has fear of liability.
"Oklahoma is literally one of the hungriest places in the industrialized world. We know from studies that hunger is most likely the cause of poverty rather than poverty the cause of hunger. Pitifully, our state all too often proves this theory. So, to have these misunderstandings in the law that lead to donors throwing millions of pounds of safe edible food in the land fill is a tragedy." commented the bill's author, state Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-OKC).
The act directs OKDHS to promulgate rules to allow seniors to take left over food home from senior nutrition centers. Also, both public schools and senior centers will be able to receive donated non-perishable packaged foods and to take home donated fresh fruits and vegetables.
In 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act was passed at the federal level to provide liability protection to those giving away food. Subsequently, there were some issues discovered involving food allergens that were addressed in the 2004 Food Safety in Labeling and Packaging Act requiring manufacturers to list known allergen content for peanuts, shellfish, etc. Oklahoma statute will now be updated to reflect that requirement as a result of HB1418.
"Restaurants should now feel secure in making donation of unserved portions to non-profits for redistribution as long as they offer reference to the fact that some prepared foods that no longer bear a label could contain allergens. " said Morrissette.
Oklahoma State University worked with Morrissette's office to prepare a complete list of allergens resulting in a one page list that can be posted at distribution sites, on websites and in other literature for use by donors and those who re-distribute foods.
"When I heard that seniors were not allowed to take home the food left on their plates and knowing that nearly all of them receive only one meal per day, it became a mission of mine to clear up this absurd policy. All of us take home doggy bags…how is this any different? Currently, there are very few restaurants in Oklahoma willing to donate food but I'm hoping that as soon as this bill is signed by the Governor we see a huge change."
Joey Abbo, the founder of the NEEDS Foundation, a local charity re-directing donated food from Deep Fork and Panera Bread, has done the math and the daily discard from Oklahoma restaurants could not just positively impact hunger in Oklahoma, it could end it.
The bill is named for Josephine Meade, a housewife and mother who for 6 years during the Depression collected discarded bits of food and sacks of flour to home cook meals for displaced workers and others fleeing the Dust Bowl, serving daily from her back porch.
Senator Al McAffrey will carry the bill through the committee process in the Senate.