Table to Table has kept 22 million pounds of food from going to waste since April 1996. As Iowa’s original food rescue organization, our unique food rescue model maximizes the amount of food we can rescue and gets it to people who can use it quickly. Route-based rescue allows us to ensure maximum amounts of food are used by our partners before it goes to waste. In fact, our partners report that most of the perishable food we collect each day is distributed to a family who can use it within six hours of our delivery. But what do we mean when we say “route-based rescue”?
Well, it looks like this!
It’s nearly as complicated to implement as it looks. The good news is, our program staff are experts and our partners are committed and that’s what it takes to make this work.
A Single Route
To put it simply, this is what a single route looks like on any given day. We do this 8-10 times per day!
Each day, volunteers hop in a Table to Table van and drive to a few of our food donor partners. They load the van with produce, dairy products, meat, bread, pizzas, pre-made chicken wraps — you name it! They then drive to a few of our recipient partners, who select what foods they’ll need that day from the T2T van.
The benefits of route-based rescue:
- More food from donors. Volunteers follow a specific route at the same time each day to ensure that our donor partners know when they’re coming and have food donations ready for them. They can easily determine whether the food they have will still be good by the time Table to Table will arrive.
- Recipients can plan for food deliveries. Our recipient partners know when to expect their food deliveries for that day and have some consistency in what we’ll deliver. When the Coralville Pantry knows we’ll deliver 50 gallons of milk from the Kalona Creamery on Thursday afternoon, they know they won’t have to buy any to meet the need of their pantry members.
- Maximum matching of donations to recipient partners. T2T volunteers can become experts at their route. They serve as daily ambassadors to collect feedback about what donors will give and what recipients can take. Our program staff uses this information to make adjustments.
- Rapid delivery of short-dated foods. We don’t bring food back to T2T for storage. Volunteers are transporting food directly from the donor to the recipient using a temperature-controlled van in a matter of hours. The produce that’s picked up this morning will be in a family’s refrigerator by this afternoon. Each month on average we collect 100,000 pounds of fresh produce, meat, and dairy products.
- Valuable food free to our partners! Many recipient agencies have no other source for these fresh foods, and certainly not another free source. Good food. Free food. It’s a win-win.
Thanks to our route-based model, we are able to rescue more than 2 million pounds of food annually in Johnson County, and our partners make sure it gets to those who need it. Without our route-based rescue, much more of this food would go to waste, never making it to the community and to family tables.
“What does this sell by date mean on my jug of milk? Can I still use it in my breakfast cereal, or is it past the point of no return?”
The Bottom Line
Manufacturers want grocers to turn their product. Grocers don’t want returns or complaints on food that’s lost some of its “ooomf”. Consumers want some guidance on how long their food will be good. All of these are reasons for offering food dates, but it may not be a reason for throwing food away.
According to USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (1):
- A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
- A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula
- A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
Did you notice a common theme in those definitions? “It is not a safety date…”
And since a sell-by date is all about inventory management for a grocery store and not your fridge, you may be able to eat those eggs for a month or so after their sell-by date.
Food dates are just one reason that consumer behavior leads to a loss of ~20% of all the food produced in the United States. Read more about the 5 things YOU can do to reduce food waste in your own home.
Food rescue starts at home! Before you start you have to understand sell by/use by/best by food date basics. <<<Did you check that out?
Just because the best by date is coming up doesn’t mean you need to toss that milk that’s two days past or bin the chunk of cheese that’s been on the bottom shelf for a couple of weeks. These items and many others can still be used up to a week or more past the sell-by/best-by/use-by date. What many people don’t know is that the best by or use by date isn’t the definitive food safety date for a product (except for baby formula). Most dairy is good up to seven days past the printed date on the carton, eggs can last up to a month in your refrigerator, and most cheeses are good two weeks or more beyond the best by. In addition to refrigerated goods, many canned and dry storage foods can last weeks, if not up to a year beyond their printed date. And if you can’t eat it now, freeze it!
5 Tips for Food Rescue At Home
Forty percent of all food produced in the US doesn’t ever get eaten. Nearly half of that food waste happens at the consumer level. That’s right, almost half of all food waste happens at home, but you can change that statistic! With these five easy tips, you can cut down your food waste by up to 200lbs and save money while saving your food:
- Plan your meals ahead of time: Before leaving for the store, make a rough plan of what you want to cook before your next grocery run and buy only what you need to make those meals.
- Make a grocery list and stick to it: While it is tempting to buy bulk or jump on a sale for obscure produce, make sure it is something that you can incorporate into your usual meal plan.
- Store your food properly: Oftentimes, we find ourselves peering into the depths of a refrigerator at a tupperware long-forgotten on the bottom shelf and wondering, “what was that?” By checking your fridge daily and making sure produce isn’t kept in the coldest spots and leftovers are properly sealed, you can stop playing “what was that,” and fully enjoy the meals you create.
- Plan to over-prepare or avoid it altogether: The Cornell Food and Brand lab found that since 2006, serving sizes in the classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking has increased by 36 percent. This increased portion size also contributes to an increase in wasted leftovers. Preparing more food at once certainly has its place. It can be good for the budget AND good for reducing food waste to make more at once. But you have to plan to store it and eat it. Freeze your leftovers to give you a little more time to eat them.
- Don’t neglect leftovers: Just like Mom and Dad told you growing up, clean your plate. Instead of ordering in, make sure your fridge isn’t cluttered with the fajitas you made on Tuesday, or the soup you had last Friday.
Read More About Food Safety and Food Waste
Looking for more detailed information on food safety and date guidelines? See these foodsafety.gov safe cold food storage guidelines.
Want to know more about the problem of food waste and how it happens across the entire food system? Check out this great summary by Foodprint.org.
- Lehner, Peter. “Tackling Food Waste at Home.” NRDC, August 21, 2012. Retrieved May 2020, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/peter-lehner/tackling-food-waste-home
It’s not too late, you can still order your recipe book and access to this awesome week of events!
TUESDAY AM: Welcome!
Get a digital copy of the recipe book delivered to your inbox…the printed copy is on the way!
TUESDAY PM: Food Waste 101
Food rescue starts at home! To do that, you have to understand the basics. How can you prevent food waste, what can you still eat and when, and if you can’t eat it, what are some alternatives to throwing it away? Throughout the week we’ll help you come up with creative ways to use the food you have. Our handy guidelines will prepare you to get cooking. Kick off the week by taking the Fridge Food Check – Stop Food Waste! Share your experience with us on Facebook or via email and we’ll enter you to win a gift card or gift from one of our sponsors.
WEDNESDAY: Lunch & Learn – Route-Based Food Rescue
Mix up a food rescued lunch with Emily, hear from a route volunteer about our unique food rescue model, and learn how Table to Table delivers 2.5 million pounds of food to our neighbors for just 15 cents a pound! Maybe by the end you’ll want to adopt your very own local food rescue route! We have many to choose from and they all play a critical part in addressing hunger in our community.
Got milk? Got old milk?! How about some soft apples or limp celery in your refrigerator? Check your email on Thursday and learn ways to clear out your refrigerator without throwing food away! Just like leftovers, many of those less-than-entirely fresh foods can be utilized in tasty and nutritious meals for yourself and your family.
FRIDAY: Cooking with our Community Partners
Ever wonder what happens to those thousands of pounds of food we rescue each week? Who better to share how to use rescued food than the chefs who do it every day to feed hundreds of our neighbors. Tune in on Friday when we’ll be joined by local chefs in the kitchens of the Salvation Army and Shelter House as they prepare nutritious meals for their guests using food rescued by Table To Table that same day.
All Week Long
Wildwoods Farms, Local Harvest, and Trader Joe’s
Don’t miss your chance to win a July CSA share from Wildwoods Farm, a garden starter kit from Local Harvest CSA or a bundle of goodies ($150 Value) from Trader Joe’s!
Recipe book holders will receive free bonus recipes! Local professional chefs aren’t the only ones that can cook and bake, as our very own Table to Table staff and volunteers share their favorite old family recipes and tips for home-cooked meals.
Best of all, throughout the week you can “Ask Emily” as our resident expert offers creative and tasty ways to prepare meals at home using leftovers, food found on your shelves and rescued from your refrigerator. Trust me, you will be glad you “asked Emily!”
What happens to a school group’s snack fund when school is canceled? It goes to providing snacks for the community! The Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program (NWP) donated $200 from their snack fund to help Table to Table rescue food that can provide vital support to community members all over Johnson County. This donation came from the group’s belief that “A good meal, shared with others, is emotionally nourishing, too, and since we can’t gather right now, we wanted to find the best way to pass that spirit along!”
The NWP students take up a collection at the beginning of each school year to establish their snack fund. This money typically goes towards keeping their snack jar filled through the year and catering a graduation celebration in the spring, but due to the physical closure of the University of Iowa campus, they were left with the decision to carry over the funds or put them to use helping the community. They chose the latter, much to our delight!