food rescue

Food rescue: there’s an app for that

By Jessica Brill

Food waste has always presented a challenge to the foodservice industry, but as inflation continues to reach record highs, restaurants may even be more motivated to lower waste and cut costs. From tightening up inventory to better managing off-premise orders, there’s an opportunity for the foodservice industry to waste less, lower its carbon footprint, and help address Canada’s battle with food insecurity.

The issue of food waste is a very serious problem in our country, where an enormous amount of surplus food – defined as food that is not consumed before reaching its “best before” date – is sent to the landfill each year. While we may not be able to completely eradicate waste, we can redistribute surplus edible food, especially as 6.7 million Canadians are using non-profit food services annually.

“There’s just so much need out there for food rescue, from the supply chain end to feeding the people to protecting the environment,” says Lori Nikkel, CEO, of Second Harvest, Canada’s largest non-profit food rescue.

Statistically speaking

Second Harvest is helping to address food waste and food insecurity on a national level – and they’ve done the research, collecting data to find a solution where everybody wins.

Just how much food is being wasted in our country, and how can we improve our performance?

The numbers tell a dramatic story. According to Second Harvest’s research, a shocking 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, with 11.2 million tonnes of edible food ending up in the landfill each year. Of the $49.5 billion of food that’s wasted each year, 32 per cent could be re-directed instead, helping the 6.9 million Canadians who are food insecure.

From an environmental perspective, food waste has a significant, long-term impact on our country’s carbon footprint. The millions of tonnes of food wasted in Canada each year is the equivalent of 2.1 million cars on the road, emitting 6.9 million tonnes of Co2 annually. Not only that, but rotting food in landfills emits methane gas, which is 25 times stronger than Co2, contributing to greenhouse gases and global warming.

As a non-profit committed to rescuing food to make positive social and environmental change, Second Harvest knew that this could be better addressed, and so, in 2018, the Food Rescue app was launched.

In the beginning

Prior to 2018, Second Harvest distributed food from their Toronto warehouse, but as their efforts grew, they began to see that this approach didn’t always make sense and they started thinking of ways to streamline and improve their processes. Turning to technology, they created a web and mobile-based app to “connect the dots between businesses with a surplus, like restaurants, and so many of the people in need,” explains Nikkel. “Bridging that gap with food rescue seemed like a no-brainer,” she continues.

Originally intended for small-yield foods, the app has grown to address over 24 million pounds of food redistributed in 2022, with 45 per cent of all rescued food coming through the app. From grocery stores to restaurants, food can be reached by community centres, after-school programs, food banks, and more, with a real community focus on eliminating food waste and getting it into the hands of the people who need it the most.

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There are 61,000 places that offer food to people in need across the country and Second Harvest wanted to make contact with as many of those places as possible, connecting as many food sources, non-profit organizations, and people as they possibly could. “We turned it into a real ultra-local community endeavour,” says Nikkel. “It’s such a simple solution to address a serious global issue.”

How it works

Is it easy for restaurants (or any business) to get on board and start to allocate food waste? The short answer is, yes. According to Nikkel, “All it takes is three minutes to get signed up and then food businesses are all set to participate.”

Essentially, it’s just a few simple steps to get on board and familiarized with Second Harvest’s award-winning app. Here’s how it works: once a business has registered (free of charge) online, they can log in any time to create a donation posting. Nearby non-profits are notified about the available donation and can claim the donation and pick up the food from the business at an agreed-upon time. This simple, speedy process has allowed Second Harvest to rescue 38.3 million pounds of food from all parts of the supply chain since its inception – and those numbers are growing every year.

The app accepts donations as large as farmers donating thousands of pounds of carrots at the end of harvest, to cafés contributing a few sandwiches at the end of the day. What can restaurants donate? Any food that’s safe to eat is safe to be donated.

In addition to increasing food rescue and lowering environmental impact, the app provides valuable data to help non-profits and the foodservice industry continue to improve their processes and increase efficiency. Things like pounds and quantities of food, greenhouse gas aversion, and soon-to-be-added water calculator mean that even better results are ahead, as those insights are studied and analyzed.

The app is even good for business, showing the environmental impact of rescued food so restaurants can share their successes on social media.

“It’s a closed loop system where the food is tracked and accounted for in each case, with the metrics to refer to as we go forward,” says Nikkel.

As a global leader in food rescue, Second Harvest has even helped other countries adopt a similar system, helping to broaden their efforts to address food rescue across the world.

Restaurants doing their part

A previous study conducted by Second Harvest examined Canadian food industry businesses, taking a representative sample to assess potential food donors. The study found that 45 per cent of businesses believed they had surplus edible food available for donation. From there, Second Harvest estimated that 3.2 million tonnes of surplus edible food exists nationally, yet only four per cent is donated.

Even as food businesses continue to implement strategies to better manage inventory and limit their food surplus, every pound counts. Knowing that edible, unused food is not being wasted, that the local community is being fed, that greenhouse gases are being avoided, and that landfills are getting spared means that participating food businesses can help make a real difference.

Apps like the one Second Harvest created, and many other ongoing local endeavours, are helping restaurants get in touch with people in need to distribute that much-needed food, providing an essential avenue for the industry to reduce waste, positively impact their communities, and make the world a better place.

This article was originally included in the Spring/Summer issue of CRFN Magazine. For the full issue, please visit this link.