Editor’s note: This is part of series of articles and opinion columns we are publishing in recognition of September as Food Safety Education Month.

With charitable, environmental, and faith-based organizations all getting involved in the food waste issue at local, state and federal levels, it’s fair to ask if anybody’s thinking about food safety in these efforts that are often long on enthusiasm.

As it turns out, the York, PA-based Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) has a Food Salvage Guide ready to help educate those working on food loss and food waste. It is one of the oldest food safety organizations in the country. And AFDO acknowledges that “tons of food are kept from the landfill and used to feed those in the United States that are not food-stable each day.”

More than 20 years ago, AFDO worked with Feeding America and the Grocery Manufacturers Association on the first guide for safe food salvage. The current edition of “The Food Salvaging Guidance and Model Consumer Commodity Salvage Code” and a new app are now available through AFDO publications.

The organization’s leaders say just as food salvaging is important to feeding needy people, it’s also important to do so with food safety in mind.

Food Safety News asked AFDO spokesman Steven Mandernach where the old adage “When in doubt, throw it out” fits into the new  guide  food salvagers. He said  it “continues to be a good message for consumers. It is generally considered a good rule for those from the food industry that are not aware of safe practices for sorting and salvaging.”

“States have invested resources to help train food banks on these practices but not retailers very much. We do understand there are times when trained individuals can conduct a thorough evaluation and sorting of food products that might otherwise be waste but can be safely used,” Mandernach said.

He also said AFDO members “are seeing greater interest in all types of food salvaging operations” including food recovery from the restaurant and grocery sectors. In particular, non-profit partners such as Feeding America sought updated guidance. 

“We continue to work with them on additional areas of interest such as volunteer food packaging events. AFDO will be charging one of its committees this year to develop specific guidance for these volunteer packing operations,” Mandernach said.

“The AFDO Food Sorting and Salvage Guide is one step in the education process. The state and local regulators across the country have extensive experience working with groups doing salvage or sorting operations, plus this additional resource further assists them with potential challenges.”

Food waste in the United States is estimated at between 30 percent and 40 percent of the food supply, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture. That estimate from from USDA’s Economic Research Service is for 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponding to about 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. “This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change,” USDA said in 2014.

Formed in 1896, AFDO’s guidance resources have been aimed at food sorting or salvage operators as, well as food protection regulatory officials.

“Technology has been a driver in the food industry and changes in packaging and the updated guide takes that into consideration,” said Mitzi Baum, managing director of food safety for Feeding America, a leader in food reclamation for more than 40 years. “There is new and updated information, new photos and new kinds of food that can be reclaimed. This is all with the goal of more food on the table and less in the landfill. 

“We are excited about the guide being as close as your back pocket (with the new app). This is very searchable from food in cans to non-food items to foods in other containers – it’s great tool for food banks who are doing food salvaging. This type of tool provides easy reference for managers who are working with food salvage volunteers, quickly and accurately.” 

The food sorting guidance portion of the guide is for establishments such as shelters, pantries and soup kitchens that evaluate food merchandise to determine if the products can be reconditioned for use. The guide’s second half provides best practices information for recovery operations and a foundation for food protection regulatory agencies considering regulations for these types of establishments. 

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