Bipartisan legislation under consideration in both the New York State Senate and Assembly would give grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, and other food industry companies an incentive to donate surplus food to local food banks or pantries through a a tax credit.
Supporters of the measure say food waste is concern across the country and New York ranks among the top 20 states with the worst food hardship with one in eight residents struggling with hunger.
Wegmans donated about 5.5 million pounds of food in New York State alone last year.
The company's manager of sustainability, Jason Wadsworth, said Foodlink receives donations of non-perishable items such as dented cans of food and boxes of pasta. Other local food banks and pantries make daily visits to Wegmans stores located in their neighborhoods to pick up perishable food.
"This could be blemished or bruised produce, still edible," Wadsworth said. "In some stores, we're venturing into the prepared and packaged food, stuff that should be refrigerated, which is a little more challenging, but we see a lot of opportunity there."
Food companies that donate excess food already qualify for a federal charitable tax deduction. Wadsworth said the proposed state tax credit is unlikely to make much of a difference for Wegmans. But it could be an incentive to smaller stores and restaurants that may not have the necessary staff, storage, and infrastructure to handle food donations, according to Mark Dwyer, a spokesman for Foodlink.
"Of course, as a food bank we think it's always the right thing to do for all retailers to donate, but we also understands it takes energy and staff time to really properly set up the right procedures with regards to storage and distribution."
Dwyer said Foodlink’s 90,000 square foot warehouse can accommodate more donated food, but said it may make sense for smaller operations, such as restaurants, to collaborate directly with local food pantries.
"When I think of restaurant food, I think of food that's almost already to eat and food that they're not using that needs to be eaten within the day, within hours, perhaps.”
The proposed legislation aimed at curbing food waste is sponsored in the Assembly by Majority Leader Joe Morelle of Irondequoit.