Donation: The Second Line of Defense

When prevention and reuse within a hotel are not possible, the next line of defense is donating extra food to feed our communities, working with partners at food banks, soup kitchens or shelters.

By donating edible surplus food, you can help support the local community, preserve the resources that went into making the food, and reduce the amount of edible food sent to compost, landfill, or other end of life solutions. You are protected from liability by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996.

Learn more about common challenges and recommendations here. 

6 Steps to Create A Donation Program,
and Who’s Involved

General ManagersHotel Owners and Finance TeamsService and Banquet StaffCulinary TeamCatering & Event Sales PR and Marketing

  1. Designate a donation lead at your property
  2. Identify a trusted and experienced food recovery community partner
  3. Develop standard operating procedures for handling food set for donation
  4. Inform and train staff on new procedures
  5. Gather data and develop a performance report
  6. Form a donation alliance with other hotels in your immediate area (optional)

Step 1: Designate Donation Leads

Designate 1-2 staff members to lead food donation efforts, including:

  • Establishing and maintaining relationship and communication channels with food recovery partners.
  • Communicating program intentions to brand or management company.
  • Facilitating staff adoption of program logistics.
  • Actively monitoring food donation handling and pick-up.
  • Collecting and communicating reports on donated food and benchmarking program success.

Step 2: Identify Food Recovery Partners

Most large cities have multiple food rescue and recovery organizations that will work with you to schedule pick-ups, draft agreements that further limit liability, and provide you with supplies and guidance on what can be donated. Advice on finding a reliable partner is available from many sources, including: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Feeding America, and Further with Food. When looking for a donation partner, ensure they can meet the following expectations:

  • Can establish a regular pick-up schedule that fits your food generation schedule
  • Provide on-property contacts for urgent matters
  • They accept your commonly overproduced food items
  • Provide detailed food safety handling practices
  • Supply appropriate documentation to obtain a tax incentive for your donation, if applicable

Donation Benefits

Working with a donation partner can decrease waste hauling costs, improve employee morale, and benefit your local community. Prompted by WWF’s project, Terranea Resort re-established a relationship with Chefs to End Hunger to donate excess and edible food from banquets. An extra 30 minutes of staff time per event allowed for the donation of 100 lbs of food. Donation requires significantly less time and labor than loading their on-site food waste processing machine, and both staff and the community were excitement to participate.

Step 3: Handling of Food Donations

Each partner will have requirements for receiving food and the types of food they can accept. For all donations, you must follow your local food safety standards and any additional standards required by your donation partner for properly cooling down food after an event, storing, and labeling food. Once partnership is established, it will become easier over time to meet their needs.

Step 4: Inform and Train All Staff

Staff will need to be trained on partner operating procedures. This can be accomplished through multiple hands-on exercises with relevant staff. While this can add a bit of time and labor, most chefs and staff are excited to see their food being used to feed the local community.


Check out the video below from the Sustainable Events Network, Florida & Caribbean and the National Association for Catering and Events on creating a Donation program:

Step 5: Gather Data

Track type and quantity of donations by keeping records or collaborating with the food recovery partner, who will often provide their own reports. This allows your property to view trends, understand overproduction drivers, and make further changes to prevent overproduction in future banquets. In addition to volume or weight measures, consider tracking the following indicators of program success:

  1. Cost savings by month/quarter/year from reduced waste hauling
  2. Percentage of food donated vs. food procured
  3. Percentage of food donated vs. food disposed
  4. Average weight of food donated per pick-up
  5. Number of donations weekly/monthly
  6. Number of staff trained on food recovery best practices

Step 6: Form a Donation Alliance with Local Hotels (optional)

Forming an alliance with other local hotels can help overcome common obstacles to food donation. Your property may not regularly have an abundance of food available to donate or local food recovery partners might prefer higher volume pick-ups.

Myth Busted: Food CAN be donated after expiration date

Just because a food is nearing or passed its marked date does not mean it is unsafe to eat. Even if an item does not meet all applicable quality and date-labeling standards, donors and distributors can still be protected by the Emerson Act. The food donor must inform the receiving organization of the imperfect condition of the food and the receiving organization must be aware of practices and willing to properly recondition the food for consumption. If foods comply with FDA standards they can still be donated.


"We don't grow food to feed landfills."

Pete Pearson, Director of Food Waste, World Wildlife Fund

Good Samaritans

The Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act protects your business from liability when donating to a non-profit organization.

  • The food must be donated to a nonprofit organization in good faith, meaning that the food must be donated with the honest belief that it is safe to eat.
  • The food must meet all federal, state, and local quality and labeling requirements, even if it is not readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions.
  • The nonprofit organization that receives the donated food must distribute it to needy individuals without receiving funds.
  • The end recipient must not pay anything of monetary value for the donated food.

Tax Deductions and Incentives

As a business, your property may qualify for federal tax deductions when you donate food to local organizations that are registered non-profits with the federal government. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 increased tax incentives for donation, as the law allows for businesses to claim a cost basis of donated inventory and half of potential profits if the inventory could have been sold for market value.

Hotels can only claim a tax deduction for food that has not already been sold for profit or property of the client per banquet contract language, therefore, food that has been prepared as part of a BEO or possibly purchased for an event, but gone uneaten can be donated, but may not be possible to claim as a tax deduction. To ensure you can claim a tax benefit from food purchased for an event, but not prepared, consider incorporating language into your contracts that give the property the right to all unprepared food.

Earning Tax Deductions Through Food Donation

Imagine a property donated a sack of mixed vegetables that was originally purchased for $20 (basis value) and would sell for $80 (FMV) and was owned by the hotel per banquet contract provisions. The expected profit would be $60, which will be used in equation (b). The enhanced tax deduction entitles the property to deduct the smaller of the following two equations:

(a) Basis Value x 2= $20 x 2 = $40
(b) Basis Value + (expected profit margin / 2) = $20+ 60/2= $50

In this case, the enhanced deduction would be $40. If a property sets up a donation plan where this can occur every week for a year, it would equate to $2,080 in total deductions. If it could occur daily with leftover ingredients intended for use at large banquets, then it would equate to $14,600 tax deduction per year. (As long it does not exceed 15% of the property’s taxable income.)