Food Insecurity and Food Donations
In 2016, 41 million people struggled with hunger in the United States, including 13 million children. In 2015, 5.4 million seniors struggled to afford enough to eat. A household that is "food insecure" lacks access to affordable and nutritious food to support a healthy life.
Approximately 1 out of every 6 people in Contra Costa and in California are food insecure, meaning these individuals or families struggle to find their next meal. Many restaurants and markets discard food that was not sold into their garbage can, which eventually ends up in the landfills. Some of this food is still wholesome for consumption.
We want to encourage people to start donating their unwanted or minimally expired food goods to designated food donation centers to help the hungry here in our county.
Where to Donate Food
Please contact agencies directly before donating to find out what donations are accepted.
You can also find organizations that accept donated food by visiting:
Laws Around Donating Food
The California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (AB 1219) provides liability protections for those making good faith donations of surplus food by:
- Creating a comprehensive list of entities covered by law
- Explicitly stating that donation of past-date food is subject to liability protection
- Expanding liability protection to donations made by food facilities, which are subject to food safety regulations and inspections, directly to individuals for consumption (direct donation)
Donors are also protected under the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act: "a person or gleaner shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition or apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donated in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals."
Donating Food Safely
Whole produce, canned goods, dry foods and similar uncooked, prepackaged products have no requirement for temperature control, and anyone can donate them.
Prepared foods and meals must be donated by restaurants, hotels, food processing facilities, food distributors, catered events and similar approved sources with commercial food permits.
When an approved source donates food:
- No previously served food may be donated
- Cold foods should always remain at 41 °F or below
- Frozen foods must always remain at 0 °F or below
- Hot foods must always remain at 135 °F or above
- Donated food must be protected from potential contamination with sanitary, food-grade containers
- Ensure transport vehicles are clean and vermin-free
Transporting Donated Foods
If possible, use portable coolers or a refrigerated vehicle to transport foods that must stay cold. If refrigerated transport is not available, use thermal blankets.
If no temperature control is available during transport, label cold, frozen or hot foods "process immediately." These foods should not be used if they were out of temperature control for more than 30 minutes during transport.
Receiving and Storage of Donated Foods
The food donor should check to ensure proper temperatures at the time of transfer to the receiving facility or food transporter.
The receiving venue should also check temperatures upon receipt of donated food and note the time received (See Food Donation Delivery Form).
If you or your organization receives donated food to store or share, remember:
- Inspect the food upon receipt to ensure it is wholesome and in good condition
- Make sure the food is from approved sources, has been stored safely and held at appropriate temperatures
- You should store the food in a way that protects it from contamination
- Make sure your handwash facilities are always available, clean and unobstructed for your staff and volunteers
- All potentially hazardous food must be stored or held at approved temperatures
- Use accurate probe thermometers to measure food temperatures, and sanitize them properly between uses
- Maintain proper temperatures in your refrigeration units and make sure they have accurate thermometers
- Your equipment and utensils should be of food-grade quality, smooth, easily cleanable and non-absorbent
- Food handlers should be aware of basic food safety measures as they related to their duties
Where to Get Food
For an up-to-date list of places to get free food contact 2-1-1 or search 211 data base.
Information for General Public
- EPA Food Recovery website:
- Sustainable Management of Food
- Reducing Wasted Food At Home
- EPA Feed Families, Not Landfills
- Stop Food Waste
- Save the Food
- Five ways to Reduce Food Waste
- 10 Ways to Cut Global Food Loss and Waste
- How to Compost
- USDA on Gleaning
- Information on Food Security
- CalRecycle Food Scraps Management
- EPA Food Recovery website:
Information for Food Facility Operators
- CalRecycle Food Scraps Management
- ConServe National Restaurant Association
- Further with Food
- Food Waste Reduction Alliance
- American BioGas Council
- Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants by the EPA
- Safe Surplus Food Donation Agreement Form
Where can I donate food?
There are many sites you can drop off donations, places like Monument Crisis Center, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County and Loaves and Fishes are always open to donations. Some places may pick-up donations. Please call ahead to find out what items they're accepting and if you have questions about pick-up.
Can I donate food past its expiration date?
Yes you can as long as the food still looks good enough to eat, it will be accepted.
What is Gleaning?
Gleaning is when a person or group picks or harvests excess fruits and vegetables from local gardens and farms, and donates it to help those in need.
I am a restaurant owner and I want to donate left-overs that are still good, but I am afraid I will be sued.
The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects potential food donners from being prosecuted or sued for potentially hazardous food donations. As long as there was no gross negligence or intentional misconduct the donner is not liable for any damages.
I have fruits/vegetables that I am not harvesting. Who can I ask to come and take the excess food?
To have someone come and glean your excess fruits and vegetables, you can go to the Urban Farmers website and register your tree.
Why is it better to compost? Won’t the food still produce methane gas?
No, food that is properly composted goes through aerobic decomposition, meaning that the fruit and vegetables are getting oxygen during decomposition. This produces Carbon Dioxide gas which is 72% less harmful than Methane gas. Food that is in a landfill gets buried and cannot get oxygen which forces it to go through anaerobic decomposition which produces Methane gas.
What food can be composted?
Foods like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggs and eggshell, baked goods such as cake, bread, cookies etc., are all compostable. It is not recommended to compost meat, fish or cooked foods as they might attract unwanted pests.
What are the differences between a food bank, food pantry, and soup kitchen?
A food bank solicits, stores, and distributes large donations of food, donations that a single food pantry could not accept because of a lack of storage capacity at their facility. Food banks feed the needs of hungry people by distributing the donations they receive to a large number of member agencies, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, meal programs, drug treatment centers, and senior care centers.
A food pantry provides three-day food packages to families that have a place to live, but not enough food. These packages are designed to provide nutritionally balanced meals.
Soup kitchens serve individuals in need of a hot meal, the only meal of the day for many of them. Most soup kitchens serve a full, balanced meal, and some prepare and deliver meals to the homebound, as well.