Senate Bill 244: Reducing Liability For Businesses To Donate Unspoiled Food

Picture of Hawaii State Capitol

By: J. S.

Senate Bill 244 is described as focusing on “expanding liability protection for donors to include donations of food and similar donations made to needy persons by organizations. [The bill] authorizes the donation of expired food when the donor reasonably believes in good faith that the food remains fit for human consumption.” Source. You can read this Senate Bill in full here.

 In the past, Hawaii manufacturers, restaurants and retailers were held largely liable if they donated food items to charitable organizations and someone became sick as a result of consuming that donated food. However likely or unlikely this was to occur, it put a burden on well-meaning individuals and businesses to accept risk when donating expired, unspoiled food to charitable organizations. Senate Bill 244 states that “The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1996 to protect good-faith food donors from civil and criminal liability and to encourage the donation of food that would otherwise go to waste. 

Despite these protections, much of the wholesome surplus food in Hawaii and in other states is discarded instead of donated.  A California survey found that 41% of manufacturers, 41% of restaurants, and 25% of retailers identified fear of liability as their primary barrier to donating surplus food, in spite of existing liability protections.”

 The outcome was that many businesses decided to mitigate that liability by throwing surplus food away rather than donating it. This statistic is presented in SB 244, which states that “despite high levels of food insecurity (in the state of Hawaii), Hawaii businesses and residents discard more than 237,000 tons of food waste per year. The legislature further finds that approximately 26% of food grown in or imported to Hawaii is thrown away, amounting to approximately 1 billion dollars in annual food waste.” Source.

The passing of this bill would encourage the good-faith donations of businesses to help close the gap in reaching the food insecure in Hawaii. This is good news for both businesses and individuals, as both would benefit from the changes proposed in the bill. It will allow businesses to work more freely with charities to donate surplus food, and also reduce the costs to businesses of throwing unspoiled food in the landfill. The legislative change will hopefully provide charities with additional reliable sources for food donations.

In addition to a reduction in food waste, this bill also acknowledges the many components that go into producing food, and how an overall reduction in food waste can create positive environmental ripple effects.

Each week we look at House and Senate Bills in the Hawaii State Legislature. Citizens interested in learning about how the state legislature works, or staying up to date with the legislature may find the following resources useful: A Citizen’s Guide to Participation in The Legislative Process, an online booklet, can be found here. The Hawaii State Legislature website for reading bills, learning about District and State representatives, and reviewing the bills each representative supports can be found here