Best Practices to Reduce Event Food Waste


Second Harvest works with thousands of food businesses from across the supply chain, and across the country, utilizing logistics and technology to reduce the amount of edible food going to waste. Our inclusive model ensures this healthy surplus food is redirected to thousands of charities and non-profits across the country, providing millions of Canadians experiencing food insecurity access to the nourishment they need.

Through our work with the hospitality industry and specifically events teams, we have learned some best practices when organizing events to become more sustainable. Using the Food Recovery Hierarchy as a tool to produce less surplus to begin with and to have a plan to donate any surplus once the event is over, here are some tips:

  1. Make sustainability a priority in your events. Decide what measures to focus on before planning the event. This will give you a better chance of hitting your sustainability goals.
  2. Write a food waste policy into your contracts and event details paperwork so partners know that this is a priority for you and that you will be using a system to reduce and donate surplus.
  3. Use the Food Recovery Hierarchy to inform decisions when working on food waste and loss. The first pillar of the Food Recovery Hierarchy is to reduce the volume of food generated at the source. Determine if the amount of food you planned for could be reduced to decrease surplus at the end of the event. Second on the Food Recovery Hierarchy is to donate any surplus you have to feed people.
  4. Have a plan for donating any surplus you have at the end of the event to a community partner. (You can do this easily by using the Second Harvest Food Rescue platform to post an approximate donation before the event starts.)
  5. Assign a person or team to be the food rescue champions of your event. The food rescue champion will ensure that any potential surplus is being stored and labeled correctly so the donation is successful. They could be a member of the chef team with a server or catering lead to ensure both departments know and understand the process.
  6. Keep a tally of the pounds you have donated, the value of those pounds as well as the greenhouse gases you have averted.

What food can actually be donated and how do best before dates factor in? This is a question many donors ask as they want to ensure they are being as safe as possible when donating food. This has led us to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to create a best before date timetable that explains how food should be kept (ie. Frozen, refrigerated etc) and when it should be donated in order to be used by our network of not-for-profit organizations.

The misconceptions around best before dates and expiry dates continue to be a major source of wasted food in Canada. Best before dates represent an estimate to the peak quality or freshness of a product, and are not an indicator of food safety. Products that are passed their best before dates can still be consumed as long as they have been stored correctly.

Expiry dates on the other hand are used on very few products (baby formula, meal supplements, formulated liquid diets, nutritional supplements, and food for use in low energy diets that is usually prescribed by a pharmacist). After the expiration date, these foods may not have the same nutrient content declared as on the label and should not be consumed.

A barrier for many potential donors is liability of donating if someone is to become sick from donated product. The great news is that every province and territory in Canada has a Food Donation Act that protects donors. Food Donation Acts ensure that there is no liability for individual, business or organization in donating food​. This means that as long as the food is donated in good faith, the donor will not be found liable.

In summary, food rescue is the action of preventing good surplus food from being wasted by collecting it and redistributing it to feed people in need. We do this by working with businesses across the food supply chain to reduce the amount of edible food going to waste, which in turn averts the release of millions of pounds of greenhouse gases. The food we recover is redirected to thousands of charities and non-profit organizations, ensuring more people have access to healthy food.

You can contribute to this impact by donating the surplus edible food that is left over from your events. Make it a priority for your team. Communicate this priority to your event partners. Have a food rescue champion who manages the donations. Reach your sustainability goals and feel great about the positive social and environmental impact you have made in your community.


Amy Robinson is food procurement manager, foodservice for Second Harvest. Track your impact by using the Second Harvest Food Rescue app to post donations to their network of more than 3,000 social service organizations across Canada.





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