Assembly passes bill to help combat food insecurity

Photo courtesy of Legislative Gazette files
Legislation would require supermarkets to provide food banks and food pantries with excess food rather than throwing it away.

New legislation has been introduced (A.4398-A/S.4176A) that would allow grocery stores to provide “outdated” food to food banks or other qualifying entities. The assembly bill has passed the assembly and is now awaiting action in the senate; the senate version is in the environmental conservation committee.

The law would require that large supermarkets that are over 10,000 square feet to set up a process to give outdated packaged food to emergency food providers, such as food banks and pantries, that request it, rather than throwing it away. Expiration, use by and sell by dates are applied by manufacturers to indicate quality, however a lot of “expired” food is still safe to eat.

“Some people call it food insecurity, but the kid who goes to school every day without lunch says he’s hungry,” said bill sponsor and Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Greenburgh. 

The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service found one in nine Americans (or 11 percent) are food insecure, or without reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food to meet a household’s needs, during at least one point in the year 2018. More than two million people live in food insecure households in New York state, and approximately 650,000 of those individuals are children, according to a 2018 report by Hunger Free America. 

Hunger Free America also reports that 34 percent of pantries and kitchens in New York City were forced to turn people away, reduce their portion sizes, or limit their hours of operation due to a lack of resources.

The stores would not be required to transport or distribute the food; a request would be made by an emergency food service provider and a time would be arranged for them to collect it. The bill asserts there will be no cost to the supermarket. In fact, it suggests markets may even save money as they “will no longer have to pay to have excess food collected and discarded.”

The U.S. throws away 133 billion pounds of food every year, and grocery stores contribute 10 percent of that waste. Grocery stores tend to overstock because they don’t want to run out of a product and drive their customers to competitors. Also fully stocked displays are often more attractive to buyers. This, along with sell by dates and imperfect produce, makes up a surplus of safe-to-eat food that ends up in dumpsters. 

“This is about making sure that the food banks and soup kitchens in our communities have enough food to feed the hungry,” said Abinanti.