A local organization is doing its part to reduce waste and get food to the people who need it most. Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Living in Manitoba’s land of plenty, surrounded by abundant grain fields and heavily stocked grocery store shelves, means that the issue of food waste barely hits our radar.

However, a study performed in 2022 found that 63 percent of the food Canadians throw away was still safe for consumption.

The Winnipeg-based Leftovers Foundation aims to change our attitude toward food waste. They are one of Canada’s largest food rescue charities and they work towards reducing food poverty by relocating goods that would otherwise be destined for the landfill.

Julia Kraemer is the Manitoba coordinator for Leftovers. She’s the only paid employee of the local non-profit. All the others work as volunteers.

“Last year, we redirected just shy of 540,000 pounds of food,” says Kraemer. “It’s massive and it’s exciting.”

Kraemer joined the Leftovers team when the branch moved to Winnipeg just over two years ago. The only other Canadian cities with operations under the Leftover umbrella are Edmonton and Calgary, where the organization got its start around 10 years ago.

In 2021 alone, the organization as a whole served almost 670,000 meals from food that had been redirected.

But it’s not just hungry tummies that the organization satisfies. Keeping food from entering the landfill will help prevent some of the unnecessary creation of methane, a type of greenhouse gas.

According to the Leftovers website, Canada’s food waste is responsible for creating 21 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses every year.

Kraemer’s job consists primarily of creating a link between those with excess food, such as grocery stores and restaurants, and the service agencies that need food. In March of this year, Leftovers delivered food to 66 different service agencies around the city.

These agencies include food kitchens, drop-in centres, seniors living facilities, rehab centres, group homes, outreach groups, and mental health service groups, among others.

Kraemer is also busy establishing relationships with commercial businesses that need to get rid of their excess, typically the food that has reached its labelled best before date.

The Red River Co-op grocery store chain, she says, is their biggest food donor to date. She’s hoping to see other grocery chains get on board.

Other regular food pickup arrangements have been established with various small bakeries and cafes. A number of food warehouses that store food destined for convenience store delicatessens make regular donations of ready-made food that’s no longer at its freshest stage.

“We also have a connection with several different Hutterite colonies,” she adds. “We get thousands and thousands of pounds of produce on pallets.”

Still, the need is not yet matched by donations.

The Truth About “Best Before” Dates

The prolific use of “best before” dates on food packaging has helped to create a grand misconception that food is unfit for consumption after that date.

Canada only requires the use of best before dates on foods that have a limited shelf life of 90 days or less, such as milk, eggs, and bread. The fact that most food packaging carries a best before date is a matter of manufacturer choice, not law.

“According to Second Harvest, dairy and eggs can last up to two weeks past their best before dates, while dry cereal, packaged snacks and canned goods can all remain edible for up to a year beyond their best before dates,” writes Jessica Huras for The Food Network.1

Huras goes on to explain that our senses can generally be relied upon to determine when a product should be trashed. An off-smell, discolouration, or presence of mould are obvious examples.

“We use food that’s well beyond the best before dates,” Kraemer says. “And that’s a big part of what we do, trying to educate that ‘best before’ is often a manufacturer’s guarantee. It’s not about safety, it’s about quality.”

Leftovers sets their own food safety guidelines for what they will and will not accept. Volunteer drivers are instructed on what to accept and what to decline.

Still, Kraemer says, much of the onus for deciding what is safe to serve falls on the service agency receiving the goods.

Another misconception is that restaurants and grocery stores are obligated, by law, to trash anything that’s beyond the best before date. Kraemer says that nothing could be further from the truth.

“There’s something called the Good Samaritan Act that protects donors from any liability as long as things are done in good faith,” she says.

The Food Rescue Program

The Leftovers website offers an app, called Rescue Food, to make life easy for everyone. This is where donors sign up for food pickups and service agencies reach out with their food needs.

In many cases, donors provide consistent pickup days and Leftovers only needs to ensure that a driver is there to collect on the requested day.

Leftovers relies heavily on its dedicated team of volunteer drivers. They range in age from high school students to retired senior citizens. Kraemer says that one of her volunteers is a woman in her sixties who uses a walker. She and her small vehicle are a valuable resource to the organization.

“We bank on the kindness of people who believe in our mission to reduce food waste and increase food access.”

While most donated food is delivered directly to a service agency, other food gets put in storage and delivered little by little to the people on the front lines.

“We work with a lot of grassroots organizations, folks who go out on Main Street and give out sandwiches and do harm reduction,” Kraemer says. “Since bread is one of the things that we get the most of, we store bread for these groups so that they can turn it into meals they can serve to the most in need.”

Kraemer adds that they’re willing to make food pickups in rural communities as well. Before they do, though, they check to see if there’s a local organization that can benefit from it.

In the coming weeks, Kraemer is hoping to implement a program being used in Calgary and Edmonton called Home Harvest. The idea is to rescue homegrown fruit and vegetables from residential yards and gardens.

“If your yield from your homegrown food is in excess of what you can use, we don’t want it to end up in landfill,” she says. “We want to see it shared with community.”

Kraemer is not misguided in thinking that her program will achieve food security on a vast scale anytime soon. But for now, she says, it’s a pretty darn good Band-Aid solution.

“At some point, food goes from having an extreme dollar value to zero-dollar value, essentially garbage. Leftovers chooses to see it as valuable in its entire lifespan. Not only in the value that you would pay for it, but also the value that comes from the labour it took to grow it, harvest it, package, process, and transport it. We try to honour all of that.”

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 01, 2023 at 22:26

This item reprinted with permission from   The Citizen   Niverville, Manitoba
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