Inappropriate and inedible: public health insights into supermarket donations to an Australian food bank
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Curtin University, Australia
Foodbank of Western Australia, Australia
East Metropolitan Health Service, Australia
Enable Institute, Curtin University, Australia
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A767
Background and Objective: Food banks provide food to people experiencing food insecurity, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2 and 12 (reducing hunger and waste by 2030). They source, warehouse and distribute food to community agencies and individuals, relying largely on donated food from major supermarkets. The donation of unwanted or surplus products is publicly framed as a food waste solution: rescuing tonnes of surplus food from landfill and feeding the needy. The quantity (kilograms) of donated food is well documented, but the quality is unknown. This study measured the quality of supermarket food donated to an Australian food bank. Methods: An audit of all donated food over five consecutive weekdays in May 2022 was conducted at a major food bank warehouse in Australia. All deliveries were documented using digital imagery on a hand-held mobile device. Photographs were manually annotated to capture pre-determined public health and nutrition quality measures: type, brand and variety of product; delivery details (donor, weight of product, date marking); food safety and product quality. Results: 1500 images collected for 72 donations, of which 36 were ‘mixed loads’ containing miscellaneous product lines in a single delivery. Supermarkets donated 61% of all mixed loads comprising 790 food products. Sixty-eight percent of products were categorised as ultra-processed (according to the NOVA level of processing), 9% were ‘unsatisfactory’ due to damaged packaging (ripped, dented +/- product exposed/leaking), compromised product (overripe, contaminated, blown or visible mould), or donated on/past the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates. Products were sorted for distribution to clients and unsatisfactory items sent to landfill. Conclusions: The quality of foods donated by Australian supermarkets was predominantly inappropriate in terms of nutrition and safety for human consumption. There is an urgent need for a system to improve the efficiency, equity and effectiveness of food donations to food banks.
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