Policy and Liability Issues in Donating Prepared Food

RCED-92-62: Published: Dec 9, 1991. Publicly Released: Dec 26, 1991.

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GAO provided information on the federal laws, regulations, or policies hindering federal facilities from making unconsumed prepared food available to the homeless, focusing on: (1) any legal or administrative barriers that exist in the policies of the 14 federal departments regarding donations of prepared foods to homeless assistance providers; and (2) related liability issues.

GAO found that: (1) although the 14 federal departments maintain food service facilities for employees and serve meals in their hospitals or on military facilities, 12 departments have no policy regarding food donations; (2) since most departments rely on contractors to operate their food service facilities, contractors decide whether to donate food; (3) 13 of the 14 departments had little unconsumed food to donate and the Department of Defense had only recently begun its donation program and could not estimate how much food might be made available; (4) the Department of Veterans Affairs requires the immediate discard of unconsumed meats or creamed foods and regards unconsumed food served in patients' rooms as contaminated; (5) of 15 federal food service contractors contacted, none had a food donation policy, although several said they voluntarily donated meals on an ad hoc basis to charitable organizations or distributed complimentary food tickets that the homeless could exchange for a meal; (6) although good samaritan laws vary greatly among states, they provide adequate protection for food service facilities that wish to donate prepared food; and (7) because contractors' food costs are usually 40 percent of gross sales, they cannot afford to have excess unconsumed food.