Cape Town - While millions of South Africans go to bed hungry, tons of cooked food gets thrown away daily.
Restaurants and big retailers in the country do not donate unsold hot food at the close of business, and are also reluctant to give the food to their employees.
Food waste is a global problem, the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa found that 10 million tons of food gets thrown away annually.
Social justice activist and founder of Harare CAN, Khanya Qongqo runs a soup kitchen that feeds close to 200 people daily in Khayelitsha.
“We can benefit from the food that gets thrown away. Who throws food away? They (businesses) have this mentality of ’if I don’t gain, no one must get’. Which is absolutely selfish and ridiculous.”
Qongqo said waste food should be donated either to organisations or people on the streets.
In countries like France, businesses in the food industry are required by law to donate leftover food to charitable causes. Failure to comply with the requirements could result in a fine of up to R67 500. Apart from France, there are many other countries that support surplus food distribution, if the food is still edible.
Retailers Pick n Pay and Shoprite both said they had a strong focus on food waste and donating to charity organisations. Pick n Pay said their stores work very hard to accurately prepare enough hot food for its customers each day to minimise waste.
“Should there be unsold hot food at the close of business, we are unfortunately unable to donate this due to food safety concerns as we can’t guarantee how this fresh food will be stored until it is consumed.”
Shoprite said all their supermarkets across the country have a no-wastage policy.
“It has strict internal controls and through a collaborative approach, meticulous planning, stock rotation policies and monitoring of sales, the chain manages its stock-levels to minimise food waste. On a daily basis, however, there are unsold edible and usable grocery items which are fit for human consumption and can be donated.”
Caryn Gootkin, a volunteer with Souper Troopers, a non-profit organisation which helps homeless people to improve their lives, and find accommodation said food does not have to be thrown away.
“There are always ways if the retailers are willing to spend some money putting the proper infrastructure in place to ensure safe distribution. It’s simply not sustainable to waste so much food while so many are hungry.”
Dr Zanephy Keyser from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Food and Science Technology department, said businesses were throwing away edible food on purpose.
“It is not so easy (to donate hot meals), food can be contaminated. Once the food leaves the business, there is no way of knowing how it will be handled by the people collecting the food. The other concern is food allergies, some of the food might have allergens.
“ Also, companies do not want to be held liable for an act of charity that has gone horribly wrong. The consumer act prevents companies from freely giving away leftover food because they can be held liable,” Keyser said.
He said that logistics was often also a problem as many retailers and restaurants did not have storage spaces to assure the quality and safety of the food.