Following the Roadmap: Strengthen Food Rescue - ReFED

Following the Roadmap: Strengthen Food Rescue - ReFED


Following the Roadmap: Strengthen Food Rescue - ReFED

  |   October 19, 2021

ReFED’s Roadmap to 2030: Reducing U.S. Food Waste by 50% was designed to provide food businesses, funders, solution providers, policymakers, and more with a framework around which to align their food waste reduction efforts. It outlines seven key action areas with related solutions to prevent, rescue, and recycle food at risk of going to waste. Each month in our special “Following the Roadmap” series, we’ll dig deep into one of the key action areas to explore why waste occurs – and what can be done about it.

Strengthen Food Rescue

What’s Happening

Just 3% of surplus food ends up being donated, with the greatest portion coming from grocery retail. Despite the large amount of produce left behind after harvest, producers donate just 1.7% of the surplus they generate (excluding gleaning). Distribution and logistics challenges contribute to this imbalance and are also the reason why most food donations are of processed, shelf-stable items that are easier to transport and store. As a result, many food relief agencies purchase fruits, vegetables, and other perishables for distribution rather than rely on donations.

Action Area Overview

Strengthening food rescue means furthering the rescue of high-quality, nutritious food by increasing the capacity of food relief agencies, addressing distribution bottlenecks, and improving communication flow. A stronger food rescue system requires expanded storage, transportation, and staffing capacity within food rescue organizations – as well as a consistent flow of goods from food business donations, which can be achieved from implementing solutions like business education or coordination and matching technologies that make food donation easier. The capture and sharing of real- or near-time data can play a key role in enabling more food to be donated and identifying gaps to fill. As solutions in this action area are implemented, it’s critical to maintain an emphasis on the health and dignity of the end recipients – the more than 50 million Americans struggling with food insecurity.

Impact of Solutions Adoption

ReFED’s analysis shows that solutions that strengthen food rescue can reduce food waste by 2.3 million tons each year, saving the equivalent of nearly 4 billion meals. It would also cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7 million metric tons and save nearly 300 billion gallons of water. While the cost to implement solutions is $1.4 billion per year, this can result in an annual net financial benefit of $8.8 billion.

Financing Needed

Historically, non-government grants and tax incentives have helped “untrap” food in supply chains to funnel towards food rescue. Public funding and impact-first investors can play a significant role in building out physical and educational infrastructure related to sourcing, processing, and transporting rescued food. As a traditionally volunteer-driven enterprise, food rescue is now also seeing new alternative business models successfully emerging, especially when paired with philanthropic grants and policy change. Policy has a core role to play in expanding liability protections, clarifying food safety guidance, and improving tax incentives, which alone can support nearly half of the recommended solutions.


Within this and the Roadmap to 2030’s other key action areas are a range of solutions, including those that ReFED has modeled using key data points, promising solutions that we’re still gathering data on, and best practices that many organizations have already worked into their operations.

Modeled Solutions

Donation Education

Continued education on food safety precautions taken by food rescue organizations, donation liability protections, and other information to increase the rate of donations by manufacturers, retailers, or restaurants.

Donation Transportation

Improving transportation and distribution by increasing small-scale transportation infrastructure, long-haul transport capabilities, or other methods that allow donations to either travel further or allow donations from more businesses.

Donation Storage Handling & Capacity

Expanding temperature-controlled food distribution infrastructure (e.g. refrigeration, warehouses) and labor availability to handle (e.g. process, package) additional food donation volume.

Donation Coordination & Matching

Using technology platforms to connect food donors with recovery organizations, simplifying the communication and coordination needed to align surplus product with need and available space.

Donation Value-Added Processing

Building processing infrastructure equipment and facilities to freeze or convert donated or excess food into products such as soups, sauces, and jams, or prepared meals.

Unmodeled Solutions

Blast Chilling To Enable Donations

A piece of equipment that allows for the quick lowering of food temperature to increase viability of donation.

Donation Reverse Logistics

Ability to transport food back from operations, distribution, or retail locations to a central location for easier donation pickup.

Best Practices

Reliable High-Frequency Pickups

Food donation pick-up schedule from food businesses that addresses unpredictability and maximizes the short shelf life of fresh products by limiting time in between pickups on set intervals.

Established Relationships with Businesses

Connections between businesses that can be leveraged to streamline donation pickups for close geographic locations, similar product offerings, or mutual connections with food recovery organizations.

Culling SOPs

Implementation of best practices for culling and product maintenance, as well as the education, training, and materials needed to ensure consistent use of practices across the industry.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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