John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” did a piece on food waste.

Oliver referenced grocery stores throwing away food instead of donating it. The reason they don’t donate is because they are afraid of getting sued, cite liability as an issue, and call it a “health and safety issue.” The host made a humorous reference to the hungry having high-powered lawyers!


Oliver also cited a US law called the “Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” (October 1, 1996) that protects businesses from liability when they donate food to non-profits. Last Week Tonight researched the common misconception that businesses can get sued for donating food to non-profits and it has never happened (as of June 2013 and the University of Arkansas School of Law “Food Recovery: A Legal Guide”)!


“…a thorough search of filings and review of reported decisions did not turn up a single case that involved food donation-related liability…”

I wonder if businesses are just unaware of this law, or they don’t want to be the guinea pig for testing this law in the courts?

For several years, hwcYouth Wednesday night Youth group used to receive day-old bakery items for $1 from a couple of local businesses in Hayward. That practice stopped at the beginning of last year because the businesses claimed a “health and safety issue.” I have also heard the same thing has happened with the Hayward Community Food Shelf (Hayward’s local food pantry). Local grocery stores stopped donating food to the this food shelf for liability-related issues.

Which begs the question:

If a United States Law exists (since 1996) that protects businesses from liability when donating food in good faith, why are businesses not donating food to non-profit organizations? Is it ignorance of the law? Or is it fear of liability?

I don’t know… but somehow we should fix this. There is too much perfectly good food getting thrown in dumpsters when there are folks who are hungry!

source YouTube


  1. This was interesting. I did not know about this law, Jeremy. The first thought I had when I read this is something my Mom used to say to us kids “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. Seems like there should be gratefulness surrounding this act of donation. Thank you for sharing!

Comments are closed.