MPR's series on hunger in Minnesota recently looked into food waste and reported that the state throws away nearly 715 million pounds of food every year. Wow. Considering the average person eats about five pounds of food a day, that lost food could be used to feed hundreds of thousands of people. Some local groups have started highly organized food "rescue" programs to make that happen.
The Second Harvest Heartland food bank has the largest food rescue program in the state and has ramped up its efforts in the last few years to collect some 12.3 million pounds of food--enough for some 9 million meals--annually from places like Cub, Walmart, and Target. All of the items are still safe for consumption but unfit for retail sale either because they are too close to their expiration dates or visually unappealing, like bruised fruit.
Food rescue has become more professionalized in recent years, as food banks invest in refrigerated trucks and warehouses with the capability to store cold or frozen foods. They also have food safety checks in place to insure that they're only distributing healthful foods. Groups are protected from liability by the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, but, fortunately, Minnesota State health and agriculture officials say they haven't seen any recent cases where rescued food caused illness.
Food rescue is also an issue from a solid waste perspective, as much of the tossed food heads to the garbage burner or landfills. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's organics recycling division is working on the problem but says one of the challenges is figuring out what percentage of the 715 million pounds of wasted food is fit for human consumption.