Food Recovery in California

Two food bank volunteers deliver food to a woman sitting in a car during a food bank drive through. All are wearing masks due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Food recovery means collecting edible food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributing it to feed people in need. This is the highest and best use for food that would otherwise go to waste. Feeding hungry people through food recovery is the best use for surplus food and a vital way for California to conserve resources and reduce waste thrown in landfills. 

Food Waste in California

A woman and her two children fill a grocery cart with fresh produce at the food bankCalifornians send 11.2 billion pounds of food to landfills each year, some of which was still fresh enough to have been recovered to feed people in need. While billions of meals go to waste, millions of Californians don’t have enough to eat.

These households often must choose between eating and basic needs like housing or medical bills.

In 2018, 4.3 million Californians (10.8% of California’s population) didn’t have enough to eat. By May 2020, that number had doubled, surging to 9.2 million Californians (23% of California’s population) who didn’t know where their next meal would come from during the COVID-19 economic crisis, according to the COVID Impact Survey.

To reduce food waste and address food insecurity, surplus food still safe for people to eat will instead go to food banks, soup kitchens, and other food recovery organizations and services to help feed Californians in need.

This will save landfill space and lower methane emissions, a climate super pollutants, emitted by organic waste in landfills.

Senate Bill 1383 and Food Recovery

To reduce food waste and help address food insecurity, SB 1383 requires that by 2025 California will recover 20 percent of edible food that would otherwise be sent to landfills, to feed people in need. The law directs the following:

  • Jurisdictions must establish food recovery programs and strengthen their existing food recovery networks
  • Food donors must arrange to recover the maximum amount of their edible food that would otherwise go to landfills
  • Food recovery organizations and services that participate in SB 1383 must maintain records

CalRecycle Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grants

Two men stand in front of a food recovery van with the Feeding San Diego logo on it
Cover of PDF brochure: Read how food recovery organization use CalRecycle grants to reduce hunger in California

CalRecycle’s grants fund projects that prevent food waste or rescue edible food that would otherwise be landfilled to feed Californians in need. Since 2018, CalRecycle has awarded $20 million to 68 projects, resulting in:

  • 86 million meals
  • 345 local jobs
  • 103 million pounds of food kept out of landfills to date
  • GHG reductions equal to 21,591 cars off the road (99,940 MTCO2e less to date) 

What Is Edible Food?

Fresh produce and packaged foods

Edible food means food intended for people to eat, including food not sold because of:

  • Appearance
  • Age
  • Freshness
  • Grade
  • Size
  • Surplus

Edible food includes but is not limited to:

  •  Prepared foods
  •  Packaged foods
  •  Produce

All food donations must meet the food safety requirements of the California Retail Food CodePDF download.

New food bank opening ceremony

Jurisdictions

Jurisdictions play a vital role in ensuring that robust food recovery programs are implemented in their communities.

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Packaged sandwiches ready for donation

Food Donors

SB 1383 categorizes regulated food donors into two tiers that must start donating edible food in 2022 and 2024.

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Smiling food donation volunteer

Food Recovery Organizations

Starting in 2022, regulated food donors must establish agreements with local food recovery organizations to safely donate edible food.

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