Many local supermarkets are not aware of a new state law that aims to increase food donations or how the law’s guidelines could impact their operations, a Record-Review survey has found.
On Dec. 30, state Sen. Pete Harckham, whose district includes Lewisboro and Pound Ridge, announced, along with Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, that their bill, the Excess Food Act, had been signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The act requires supermarkets to make excess food available to qualifying entities that help feed residents in need.
“This law ensures that, in New York, food formerly destined for landfills will now be available for the more than two million state residents who are food insecure,” said Mr. Harckham. “And with so many great community-based organizations and initiatives at work to help our neighbors, making sure they have ‘access to the excess’ will be all-around beneficial.”
Mr. Harckham said that hunger and food insecurity are on the rise across the nation, now even more so because of the economic harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet nearly 40% of the food produced in the U.S. ends up thrown away, uneaten, he said. With the new law, guidelines will exist for supermarkets to donate food to nonprofit or religious organizations that provide food free to community members.
According to state lawmakers, the excess food from grocery stores will be made available to various food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens and other entities that are providing free food to community members who are food insecure. The legislation states these entities must pick the food up in cases where the markets are not already obligated to deliver the excess. The donated food is to consist of edible items that are safe to be consumed but have not been sold or used by the supermarket because of labeling, appearance or surplus. The guidelines also list restrictions on the type of food items to be donated.
The Record-Review contacted supermarkets in the area to find out whether they were aware of the legislation. While some are complying, many did not seem to have any knowledge of the new law.
Christina DeCicco, co-owner of DeCicco Family Markets, which has a store in Katonah, said she was aware of the Excess Food Act. “When we have excess, we arrange for pickup by food pantries in various locations in all three New York counties in which we operate,” she said. “We are, however, a very low-waste company. Being a small business, we are able to reuse resources that other large companies may have to eliminate. Our meal prep is done mostly in-house, so it does not need long-term storage or transport to anywhere else; we can use it immediately. We do not eliminate food unless it is determined to be spoiled, expired, or unsafe for various reasons.”
Ms. DeCicco said the company also had community rebate programs with several food cupboards as recipients, and a donation program that allows qualifying organizations to submit applications to request donations of new and fresh product. Additionally, she said, “we ask our customers to help us in the Jefferson Valley location purchase a set price bag of groceries, at our wholesale cost, that we deliver to the local bank. Space constraints prohibit us from doing this in the Katonah location, however.”
Dana Ward, a corporate spokesperson for Acme Supermarkets, which operates a store in Goldens Bridge, said the company has a longstanding relationship with the Feeding America food bank, and specifically, the Goldens Bridge store has a relationship with the Feeding Westchester Food Bank. “So, we are aware of the law, and didn’t really have to do anything new, because we’ve already been doing this,” she said.
Billy Fortin, who owns The Market at Pound Ridge Square, told The Record-Review he was not notified about the law creating new guidelines for supermarkets to donate “excess food” to food banks across New York state. However, Mr. Fortin said he does not expect it be difficult for his independently owned grocery store to comply.
“We do that now, we’ve done it for years and years,” Mr. Fortin said in a phone interview. “Anything that’s unsalable goes to the food bank” unless it is expired, he said.
For years The Market has been donating items like day-old bread, rolls, or slightly bruised produce to the Community Center of Northern Westchester in Katonah, with pick-ups occurring approximately twice a week. Mr. Fortin said he will research the new legislation to see if The Market has to make any additional changes regarding existing policy on excess food donations.
An employee at Green Way Markets in Cross River was unable to provide a response to the recently enacted law, but he said the store had not received any new directives on how to handle excess food donations.
ShopRite in Bedford Hills did not respond to a request for comment. However, the supermarket does off prepackaged shopping bags of grocery items that customers can purchase at check out, which it delivers to the Community Center of Northern Westchester in Katonah.
In addition, the company website says through its hunger-fighting initiative, ShopRite Partners In Caring program, which is more than 20 years old, supports more than 2,200 charities and community-based groups including food pantries and senior citizen centers. Through in-store signage, ShopRite said it also directs shoppers to purchase items from brands that support anti-hunger programs.
DeCicco & Sons, which has a store in nearby Somers and is on track to replace the Key Food Marketplace in Bedford Village, did not respond to The Record-Review’s request. Contacted by phone, a store manager in Somers said she was unaware of the law and would need to check with other company representatives. According to their website, the company has a “DeCicco Cares” program that donates money to many organizations, but food donations are not listed. DeCicco & Sons is a separate business from DeCicco Family Markets.
The Excess Food Act is also intended to promote positive environmental and economic benefits from food being donated instead of thrown away. Its sponsors noted that, besides impacting natural resources, food waste dominates municipal landfills and emits methane, a greenhouse gas.
Bedford 2030 announced it was delighted to see the act go forward. “We have been advocating for it since the Bedford 2020 Food Forum in 2017 and it is consistent with the Sustainable Food Practice goals set in the new 2030 Climate Action Plan,” said the group’s statement.