Health Inspector Training for Food Donation Guide

November 06, 2019

All communities have residents who lack the means to consistently obtain the food they need. Food insecurity is a pervasive challenge in the United States, with nearly one in eight Americans needing assistance to meet their family’s food needs. A core component of the Food Matters initiative is a commitment to helping communities rescue appropriate surplus food and redirect it to people in need. The donation of surplus food by grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, colleges, schools, sports facilities, food manufacturers, and other licensed food facilities is vital to addressing food insecurity in our communities.

In our work, NRDC has often found misconceptions among food businesses and other potential food donors—e.g., that their city health department discourages donation or that they will be fined if they donate surplus food. Health inspectors are ideally positioned to dispel such myths, convey their city government’s interest in addressing food insecurity, and most broadly, communicate directly with licensed food facilities to ensure they have the information they need to donate food safely.

Everyone involved, from food facilities to food rescue organizations to food insecure people themselves, has an interest in making sure that food is donated safely. Engaging food facilities around safe food donation can be a powerful way for inspectors to leverage the full scientific integrity of their profession for a good cause, helping to address the critical issue of food insecurity close to home and ensuring that food safety standards are maintained for the benefit of all concerned. For these reasons, NRDC views health inspectors as a vital link in the chain that connects surplus food to the people who need it.

This guide provides an overview for engaging health inspectors as ambassadors for safe food donation, along with key tools, steps along the way, and insights from NRDC’s engagement with the public health departments in Denver, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Nashville, Cincinnati, and other cities. In addition to this guide, our resource package for health inspectors includes:

  • A PowerPoint version of the training, complete with written talking points, that health departments can use to conduct inspector training themselves
  • A user-friendly brochure template that can be adapted and distributed by your health department to licensed food facilities
  • A customizable template to encapsulate the more technical aspects of your local health code that licensed food facilities need to comply with when donating food to people in need
  • Examples of brochures and technical guidance from Baltimore, Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Cincinnati

Additional guidance on using the PowerPoint version of the training program is provided at the end of this guide.

1. Understand the local food donation landscape

To start, it is helpful for your Department of Health to get a lay of the land regarding food donation in your community. For instance, in many areas, larger grocery stores and food manufacturers have donated significant volumes of food for many years, often through food banks and larger food rescue organizations. Some communities also have a growing number of restaurants, colleges, hotels, or other businesses that donate prepared foods, while in other locations the donation of prepared foods is relatively uncommon. Often, smaller nonprofit food rescue organizations or start-up businesses act as middlemen, coordinating the pickup and delivery of food from food donors to pantries, homeless shelters, and other organizations that provide food directly to people in need.

To get a handle on your situation locally:

  • Compile your existing local health regulations that relate to food donation, such as those defining:
    • Potentially hazardous foods
    • Foods that can be donated
    • Foods that cannot be donated
    • Required time/temperature controls
    • Cooling parameters to ensure that hot donated food is handled safely
    • Cold/hot food temperature requirements
  • Talk with different types of licensed food facilities about whether they donate food, and find out what questions they have about how to do so safely. You will likely hear that facilities believe donation is not allowed, that they don’t know what organizations could come pick up the food, that they are concerned about liability issues, or that they just haven’t thought about donating.
  • Speak with a handful of local food rescue organizations about their perspective on how food donation is changing in your community and how their organizations operate. This can also provide insight on who the players are and how donated food physically moves from donors to people who need it. One-on-one calls or a meeting with food rescuers can also shed valuable light on how current regulations that pertain to food donation are perceived and interpreted. Explore topics such as:
    • What, if any, health regulations that pertain to food donation are confusing to food facilities or rescuers—and therefore potentially misunderstood?
    • Do food rescuers perceive that any health regulations are enforced inconsistently from one facility to another, contributing to confusion about what is allowed?
    • Are any existing health regulations perceived as presenting undue barriers to donation?
    • Could any existing regulations be modified to foster more food donation without compromising safety?
    • Working from NRDC’s templates for the brochure and technical guidance, do these stakeholders have suggestions for how the content of those materials could be tailored to best suit your community?
  • Determine if any other city agencies have programs in place to encourage food donation among area food businesses and institutions. For instance, does the city’s economic development agency provide materials to businesses? Does the human services department conduct outreach to encourage food donation?
  • Explore the possibility of issuing your food donation brochure and technical guidance jointly with health departments in neighboring jurisdictions. This can be a great way to align with peer agencies and present a united front on how food can be donated safely. This can also be helpful to donors and food rescue organizations in communities where food is donated by a facility in one jurisdiction but is distributed to needy people in a different jurisdiction. If your state has uniform food safety regulations across all jurisdictions, consider a statewide brochure. This can be a great aid particularly to smaller health departments that may not have the bandwidth to approach this on their own and a helpful way to share costs.

2. Engage health inspectors

  • Identify a champion on your staff to help shape your inspector engagement strategy and coordinate within (and beyond) your department. Ideally, this will be an inspector who is passionate about food insecurity issues and the reduction of wasted food. The champion will be key for building staff buy-in, answering questions, and overseeing the process of developing and disseminating your guidance to food facilities (discussed below). Depending on the culture and workflow of your department, you may want to develop your brochure and web guidance (discussed in #3, below) before, after, or at the same time as inspector training.
  • Training your staff is key to fostering buy-in among your inspectors and department leadership. NRDC has developed a resource aimed specifically at building buy-in and giving inspectors information they need when interacting with facilities about food donation issues.

    A PowerPoint version of the health inspector training, developed by NRDC staff, provides inspectors with an overview of food insecurity and food waste issues, the critical role of inspectors in addressing both, communication tools inspectors can use to ensure that food facilities understand the ins and outs of donating food safely, and strategies for sharing that information with these facilities. The deck includes the slides and a complete set of written talking points, enabling you or someone on your staff to deliver the training yourselves. Key slides can be adapted to include locally specific data such as food insecurity rates in your community.

    We suggest allowing time at the end of the training to discuss your plans for developing and disseminating the brochure and technical guidance discussed below. It is also important to include time for inspectors to raise questions and concerns and share related experiences from the field. They should come away with a clear sense of why your city government supports increased food donation and the role of the inspector in making that possible. We have found that a 60-minute slot is typically about right.
  • Inspectors may also be interested in visiting or volunteering with food rescue organizations and pantries to see food donation in action, or touring a nearby landfill or compost site to see where food ends up if discarded.

3. Develop materials about safe food donation for licensed food facilities

NRDC recommends using two key communication tools with your licensed facilities: a user-friendly brochure that covers the high points, and technical guidance that provides the specifics on how to donate food safely given your local health code. Both materials can live on your department’s website and be distributed through a variety of additional channels. Our package includes numerous examples of both the brochure and technical guidance, and we have templates available for each to take you quickly from idea to execution.

  • Use our brochure template as a starting point for your brochure. Our template provides sample language and layout that you can tailor to your local circumstances. The downloadable brochure and technical guidance from Baltimore uses NRDC’s template. We have also provided other examples from Baltimore, Denver and Minneapolis.

    Make sure your brochure text addresses the following topics in a concise and accessible way:
    • Food insecurity rates in your community and why your city government encourages food donation to people in need
    • Foods that are or are not eligible for donation
    • Basic food safety parameters (e.g., food temperatures, cooling parameters, etc.)
    • Brief text about the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which provides liability protection to food donors and federal tax incentives for food donation
    • Organizations in your community that can pick up surplus food from licensed facilities and distribute it to people in need. (Focus on rescue organizations with well-established food safety protocols and ask their permission to include their contact information.)
    • Alternatives to food donation, such as composting
  • Adapt our technical guidance template to compile in one place the specific regulations your agency has that pertain to food donation, including time and temperature controls, food labeling, transportation, and other matters. Along with the brochure, this guidance should be posted on your website as a “one-stop shop” where facilities can find everything they need to know to donate food safely, taking the guesswork out of determining what regulations apply.
  • Hone your distribution plan for the brochure and technical guidance, drawing from the channels discussed below as well as others that may be appropriate in your community.
  • Once you have drafted the content, ask a few rescue organizations and food facilities to review it and provide feedback. This step can be critical for avoiding any blind spots about how the material may be received and understood. This consultation can also promote buy-in among food rescue organizations, a key step given that food rescuers also need to comply with local health regulations and will regularly interact with facilities that want to donate food.

4. Communicate with licensed facilities

There are many ways to share the brochure and technical guidance with licensed food facilities and other stakeholders. Here are some options we have found helpful:

  • Post the brochure and technical guidance on your Department of Health website in an easy-to-find location that tells food facilities “What You Need to Know” to donate food safely.
  • Mail hard copies of the brochure to licensed food facilities.
  • Add distribution of the printed brochure to your standard site-visit checklist.
  • Add discussion of food donation to your standard site-visit checklist, if possible. Keep your eyes open for areas of confusion that may point to the need for additional information to ensure that facilities can donate confidently and in line with your local regulations. Ideally, incorporate a question such as “Have you donated food to a food rescue organization in the past month?” into your site-visit protocol. This will help ensure that food donation issues are discussed and provide a basis for tracking the impact of your communication efforts.
  • Incorporate the brochure and conversation about food donation into the license approval process for new facilities.
  • Include the brochure in “welcome wagon” materials and mock inspections for newly licensed facilities.
  • Post materials on additional areas of the city’s website, such as those addressing food access, food security, social services, and business engagement in the community.
  • Provide hard copies to local stakeholder groups such as the local restaurant or hospitality association, economic development agency, and food rescue organizations, and ask them to share the material with area food businesses and institutions.

Estimating costs

The hard costs associated with the above materials are driven in large measure by the number of licensed facilities in your community and the number of copies you want to have printed. Costs typically include:

  • Graphic design services if not using NRDC’s template and if in-house design capacity is not available
  • Printing the brochures—enough for a one-time mailing to all licensed facilities, plus brochures to hand out during inspection visits for 6–12 months and additional copies to share via other city agencies, rescue organizations, etc.
  • Envelopes, if using
  • Labor to fold and seal brochures and/or to stuff envelopes, if using
  • Any costs associated with applying mailing addresses
  • Postage
  • Printing of technical guidance to hand out to facilities, if desired (although your brochure should include a link to your online technical guidance to reduce the need for printing)

We have typically found that the above—developing, printing and mailing brochures (including postage, address labeling, and sealing of brochures)—costs less than $5,000 for a city that has 1,500–2,000 licensed facilities.

The mechanics

  • Developing the printed brochure
    • Who will handle developing the layout or modifying NRDC’s template to suit your needs? Will it be an in-house designer or an outside party?
    • What size of brochure do you want? NRDC’s trifold template could be printed on standard letter 8 1/2"x 11" paper, to be mailed in 4 1/8"× 9 1/2" envelopes.
    • What type of brochure do you want (tri-fold, single-fold, single-page, horizontal, vertical, etc.)?
    • Do you want a glossy finish or matte finish?
    • Can you incorporate recycled content?
    • If mailing, where will the address labels and postage be placed on the brochure?
    • In addition to the Department of Health logo, do you want to include any other organizations’ logos on the brochure (e.g., your city, other city agencies, neighboring jurisdictions, restaurant association, etc.)?
  • Delivery of brochure/mailing
    • How will you obtain your mailing list for licensed facilities (e.g., purchase a list, use an internal database, get a list from the city licensing department, etc.)?
    • How are you going to add postage (e.g., hand stamp, metered stamp)?
    • If developing a folded brochure, how will you seal it?
    • Are you printing in-house or outsourcing?
  • Disseminating the brochure
    • Determine how long it would take to physically reach each facility if brochures were distributed only by hand during inspection visits.
    • Consider doing a one-time mailing to accelerate your impact and ensure that all facilities receive the same message at the same time. NRDC encourages this.
    • For digital distribution, where will these documents live in your department’s IT system (e.g., website, internal drive, etc.)?
  • Paying associated costs
    • What are your budget and estimated costs given the number of licensed facilities in your community, your approach to designing and distributing the brochure, and the desired number of copies to print and mail?
    • What is the funding source for printing, mailing, and associated costs?
    • Who manages those funds within your department?
    • What additional information do you need about the funding source, account numbers, grant numbers, approval processes, etc. so it is easy to process payments?

Using the Food Matters PowerPoint training for health inspectors

In addition to the plug-and-play version of our health inspector training program, we have provided a version of the training as a PowerPoint file that you can use to deliver the training yourself. It includes detailed talking points. The file is provided as a jpg. One slide—number 15—can be edited and used to convey information about food insecurity rates in your own community.

The information needed for this slide can be obtained from the “Food Insecurity in America” map at Feeding America’s website. Feeding America has estimated food insecurity rates for every county in the United States (hover over your county to see your specific data). If you would prefer to use city data instead, you will need to identify an alternate source of data. National food insecurity rates are listed below the U.S. map (12.5% as of October 2019).

Use the Feeding America data to calculate the “meal gap” in your county. Divide your “Additional Money Required to Meet Food Needs” figure by the “Average Meal Cost” for your county. This gives you the number of meals that are lacking. Feeding America provides more information about how meal gap data were determined here.