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Food Rescue - Definition and 7 Food Rescue Organizations

Food waste is edible food fit for consumption but considered trash for some reason. To understand better, imagine restaurants with a 100-person capacity only serving 60 people daily. The food items meant to serve the remaining 40 people go to waste. 

Another scenario is supermarkets and farms. Some food items have a date labeling when they will become unfit for consumption. Stores clear out these unsold products, sending them to waste. Also, farms that don’t have enough storage for their harvest or didn’t finish selling all their product label the excess as waste. These foods include vegetables, fruits, and baked items. 

Food rescue is an initiative that saves perfectly good food labeled as waste. Food rescue programs are designed to deploy various food reuse strategies to distribute food waste for consumption or a more productive end than simply ending up in the trash. These strategies are human consumption, feeding animals, composting and industrial reading. 

Read on to discover more about food rescue and organizations that redistribute food tagged as waste. Also, the article explores the economic and environmental benefits of food rescue.

Related: 33 Food Waste Facts and Statistics 

What is Food Rescue? 

Food rescue volunteers
Photo: iStock

Food rescue is gathering edible food meant for disposal and distributing it to food banks, local communities, and emergency food programs. Surplus food products from grocery stores, farms, restaurants, produce markets, food events, and parties are food waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food waste is between 30% to 40% of our food supply.

To prevent the loss of this unsold and nutritious food, food rescue organizations gather and put this excess food to good use. They reduce food waste by donating fresh food to homeless shelters, food banks, food pantries, and other organizations that redistribute food. Sometimes, volunteers serve meals cooked with the rescued food. 

They also use rescued food to feed animals that eat food scraps. Also, some industries convert excess food that is not edible into renewable energy. Another way they reduce food waste is through composting, benefitting the environment’s plant ecosystem. 

Reasons for Rescuing Food  

  • Food rescue redistributes surplus food to fight food waste.
  • Rescuing food reduces food insecurity. 
  • It reduces greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Rescuing excess food can increase or save financial gains. 
  • It saves energy and resources.

Food rescue redistributes surplus food to fight food waste. 

Food waste is a common global phenomenon. We waste food at every level, like household and retail food waste. Over time, researchers noticed the impact of excessive food wastage on the environment. Food waste points to inadequate use of resources for food production. 

We waste soil nutrients, water, and energy used to produce food when we don’t complete its life cycle by consumption. Apart from wasting resources, it also produces greenhouse emissions. Food production produces tons of CO2 while dumping food in landfills produces a more dangerous greenhouse emission known as methane. The presence of these harmful gases leads to damage to the ozone layers and other structures in the environment. 

Governments, activists, and volunteers have set up food rescue organizations or projects to avoid these negative environmental impacts of food waste. Food rescue ensures, or at least improves, the consumption of unsold food, reducing food waste. By reducing food waste, we can reduce greenhouse emissions in the environment resulting from waste food and maximize our resources1.

Rescuing food reduces food insecurity.  

Many people are experiencing hunger. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is an increase of 1.3 billion people worldwide who are experiencing hunger and lack of access to nutritious food. Many people experience constant hunger and food insecurity because they can’t afford to provide meals for themselves or they are experiencing famine.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone in the world. However, we waste a large percentage of it. Food rescue ensures that these impoverished people get healthy meals and food products. Volunteer food rescuers help those who are food insecure when they save food. They transport the food to a designated food bank, distributing food to the people experiencing hunger. 

It reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  

The production of food creates a significant amount of greenhouse emissions. However, food waste produces more greenhouse emissions. Dumping food waste in landfills generates carbon dioxide and methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. 

In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported an emission of 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from food waste. The release of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causes severe climate change and, by extension, damages other environmental structures. For instance, 9% of New Zealand's methane emissions are from food waste.

By reducing food waste, we are reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. So, restaurants, farmers, shopping malls, and other possible food donors should endeavor to send excess food to a food bank. At food banks, they distribute free food in ways that prevent food waste. 

Rescuing excess food has economic benefits.

With food rescue, the country’s economy can improve drastically. A feature of a circular economy is a minimal wastage of food. A circular economy advocates for the efficient use of resources, low waste, and environmental pollution. It also advocates for the proper circulation of the food chain and the regeneration of nature with food scraps.

Using the state of Minnesota as a case study, a family of four can save $1200 annually when they reduce food waste.

It saves energy and resources.

Food production affects our water sources and soil fauna. We use a lot of water to produce food, and 40% of the food is in landfills. This is a waste of resources. The resources used to produce rescued food are lessened when food banks redistribute it to local communities.

7 Food Rescue Organizations 

1. Aloha Harvest

The Hau'oli Mau Loa Foundation founded Aloha Harvest in 1999. They established the food rescue organization in line with the results of the feasibility study conducted on food waste and insecurity in Hawaii. 

Now, they are the largest food rescue and redistribution organization in Hawaii. In 2022, Aloha Harvest worked with 414 food donors and 148 receiving agents to redistribute 3 million pounds of food.

2. City Harvest

City Harvest’s founders started operation in December 1982. The foundation began 40 years ago with a potato. The foundation's first executive director noticed the difficulty of feeding everyone who came for lunch. 

She convinced a restaurant near the kitchen to donate the unused part of potatoes. The chef donated 30 gallons of cooked potatoes, beginning the era of City Harvest food rescue in New York. The company has grown since then. 

City Harvest rescues over 20,000 pounds of food daily and almost 94 million pounds of fresh produce yearly. Also, they prevented the release of 42,000,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now they cater to New York City with 23 food rescue trucks, almost 190 staff, tons of volunteers, and donors.  

3. Food Rescue Hero 

One out of five residents of Pittsburgh struggles to eat a healthy meal daily. Leah Lizarondo established Food Rescue Hero in 2016 to feed hungry people in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New Haven, Northern Virginia, Delaware, Vancouver, Contra Costa, and Des Moines. 

Their app alerts nearby volunteers about the availability of surplus food and guides them through their pickup and delivery. They have coordinated preventing over 137 million pounds of good food from being thrown into landfill.  

Also, they mitigated the release of 54 million pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. The organization's goal is to reach over 100 cities by 2030. In 2021, they recovered over 4 million pounds of food from 757 vendors. They helped people eat healthy meals, relieving stress and improving their health.

4. The Felix Project

The Felix Project in London collects fresh, unsold food and delivers it to schools and charities. Justin and Jane Byam Shaw established the food redistribution charity in 2016 to assist food-insecure people. They gather excess fresh fruit, vegetables, baked goods, salads, fish, and meat from over 539 suppliers. 

In 2021, they provided food for over 30 million meals. Felix Project aims to provide a meal for children and adults without access to a good meal. They were very helpful during COVID-19, as they delivered to London's emergency food hubs, providing food to those sick and in isolation. 

Their suppliers include Gail's artisan bakery, Mr. Organic, Waitrose, Costco, and Hello Fresh.

5. White Pony Express 

White Pony Express, established by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner in September 2013, is in California, the United States. She witnessed several people starve while we wasted surplus food from malls and stores. 

She created the food rescue organization to provide food for those who lack it and contribute to reducing food waste. The organization registered as an independent non-profit public benefit, with the primary aim of supporting people. 

The organization's growth is partly because of the support of volunteers who provide time, energy, equipment, storage space, and other donations. By 2021, White Pony Express hit a major milestone. They distributed over 42 million pounds of food. 

They work 364 days a year, rescuing an average of 15,000 pounds of surplus fresh produce from local grocery stores, retailers, restaurants, wholesalers, and farmers’ markets. To make it easier to connect to donors, WPE has a food rescue app. Donors signal the availability of surplus food, and an available volunteer picks it up and delivers it.

6. Food Recovery Network (FRN)

In 2011, 5 students noticed the exorbitant amount of wasted food on campus. So, they redistributed food, feeding people who couldn't afford to feed themselves. These students birthed the Food Recovery Network, and the organization grew exponentially. 

There were 100 chapters of FRN across the United States. Food Recovery Network in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, etc. 

Now, FRN is the largest student-led food rescuer with the primary aim of ending hunger in the US. Between July 2021- June 2022, they stopped over 5 million pounds of food from going to landfills. By extension, they prevented the emission of 2,791 carbon emissions. 

With 2,650 students across all chapters, each student chapter recovered 2,236 pounds of food. The organization's donors are Whole Foods Market, Mom's Organic Market, Oxo, ReFED, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, PepsiCo, etc.

7. Second Harvest 

Second Harvest is a food bank whose vision is to reduce hunger and environmental waste. The organization’s mission is to grow an efficient food recovery network and minimize the impact of avoidable food waste on the planet. They collect food waste and cook healthy meals for people suffering from hunger. 

Since Second Harvest’s inception in 1985, they have rescued 53 million food and prevented the release of 162 million pounds of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. They connected with 5,700 donors and prepared an average of 150,000 meals daily for Canadians in 2022.


We spend too much energy, resources, and effort on food production to allow it to go to waste. Food waste is a rampant problem in various countries around the world. However, some solutions can reduce the high rates of food wastage. One such solution is food rescue. 

There are various food rescue organizations in charge of saving food items. Check around your neighborhood for a food bank you can deliver food to. These rescue organizations keep food donations in their food tank and have volunteers reach out to hungry populations or recycle it as compost.

Restaurants, food pantries, and farms should endeavor to partner with food rescue organizations to avoid unnecessary food loss. Contact the nearest food rescue organization if you have excess food from an organized party. Many of these organizations also have mobile apps enabling them to respond promptly.  


Kennard, Nicole. (2019). Food Waste Management. 10.1007/978-3-319-69626-3_86-1.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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