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Food donation is less taxing...literally

April 6, 2016

Have you ever wondered how much wholesome, prepared food goes to waste at your restaurant each day? The answer probably is a lot more than you think.

However, donating food to those in need could earn you an enhanced tax deduction. Certain larger companies have been able to do that for several years, and the deduction is now available for smaller businesses, thanks to the PATH Act enacted last December.

Here’s are answers to common questions about how it works:

You’ve got wholesome food that hasn’t sold. What should you do with it?
You can either dispose of it or donate it. If you throw it away, you could incur hefty hauling and disposal costs and increase the amount of food waste sent to landfills. Consequently, disposal probably isn’t the most socially responsible solution. But with the new changes to the U.S. tax code, the government is encouraging you to donate rather than dispose of your surplus food.

You must follow one rule: You must be safely donate the food to a qualified 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization to take the enhanced deduction.

How does it work?
Naturally, there are costs associated with food preparation whether you sell the final product or not. Those costs always are deductible on your taxes, even if you end up throwing the food away. However, if you donate the food, you can also deduct the lesser of

(a) The food cost (deducting it a second time
(b) Half of the profit you would have made had you sold the final food product

pizza, olives, mushrooms

Here’s an example: If you had a $10 pizza that cost $3 to make, your profit would be $7 if you sold it. But if you ended up donating it, you could deduct the $3 cost along with the lesser of the $3 cost or half the profit 

you would have made on its sale, which is $3.50. The lesser amount, of course, would be the $3 cost. That would end up being your enhanced deduction for donating the item.


How much do I save by donating surplus food?
Your tax savings from donating equals your marginal tax rate x your enhanced deduction.

Now that you know how much you can deduct, there still are a couple of important points to remember:

  1. It’s a tax deduction, not a tax credit. You have to be profitable and pay taxes to take a deduction.

  2. No one is giving you cash; you’re saving money. You’re writing a smaller check to the government, so you’ll have more money to do with as you please.

Best of all, you’ll be doing something good for others and for the environment. It’s a win all the way around.


Jim Larson is director of the Food Donation Connection, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based organization that assists foodservice businesses with food donation programs. The FDC and the National Restaurant Association are partners in the fight against hunger. 


4 myths and truths about sustainable packaging

April 19, 2016

What’s the real story behind sustainable packaging? Untangle the myths and misperceptions:


  1. Misperception: Your choices for sustainable packaging are limited.

Reality: Many environmentally sound, single-use options are available for cups, cutlery, plates and to-go boxes. They include: 

  • PLA, also known as polylactic acid. Plant-based, non-petroleum-based. Has the look and feel of conventional plastic.
  • Bagasse. Made from the pulpy residue after juice is extracted from sugar cane. Look for it in clamshell containers, plates and bowls.
  • Post-consumer recycled paper fiber. It’s true; your old newspapers could end up as tomorrow’s coffee cup.
  • Post-consumer polystyrene. It may be hard to believe, but old retail hangers are finding new life as lids and cutlery.


  1. Misconception: Sustainable packaging is too expensive. 

Reality: Sustainable packaging costs more up front, but that’s because conventional packaging has been around longer and is produced on a much larger scale.  And pricing for sustainable packaging is coming down. It’s not susceptible to fluctuations in the price of oil, like conventional plastic is. And there are numerous benefits associated with it, like sending a positive environmental message and building customer loyalty, that more than make up for the extra cost.


  1. Misunderstanding: Compostable is the same as biodegradable. 

Reality: Biodegradable means the product can break down into small parts through natural processes and microorganisms. Compostable products break down in commercial composting facilities to create nutrient-rich soil. The Biodegradable Products Institute tests products to determine whether they break down in a reasonable amount of time without toxic residue. Look for the words ”BPI Certified“ on truly compostable products.


  1. Myth: Sustainability is a big pain in the [trash] can. IMG_3243.jpg

Reality: It’s not nearly as complicated as you might think. It’s much easier if you and your staff are committed to making it work. Using sustainable cups, plates and utensils is a great first step. To get even more of an environmental benefit, take additional steps to divert materials from the landfill. Add separate bins for trash, compostables and/or recyclables, and train employees to separate waste correctly. Also, post detailed signage to guide customers to use the right bins.

The bottom line: Despite some extra costs and work up front, sustainability is good for business. The more you learn about it, the more you’ll find to like.

Sarah Martinez is Sustainability Maven for Eco-Products, which makes foodservice packaging from renewable resources and post-consumer recycled content.

Float the idea of sustainable seafood

April 26, 2016

Not long ago, we thought our seafood supply was endless — that there were plenty of fish in the sea.


Today more people realize this may not be the case. And as awareness increases, we’re seeing more chefs, restaurateurs and consumers paying attention to the sustainability of seafood offered on menus.


The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch this year celebrates 16 years of working to get restaurant businesses, producers, farmers and fishermen to take a more environmentally sound approach to raising, catching and serving seafood. We’re making headway. Sustainable seafood is becoming an important consideration for businesses, even in far-off parts of the world.


As sustainability of our seafood supply captures more attention, Consumers and restaurateurs alike are more interested in learning about the fish they buy, cook and consume. They want to know where it’s from, how it’s sourced, raised or caught, if it’s endangered and how it affects the eco-system.


We’re seeing some significant changes as a result. Many fine-dining chefs promote sustainable seafood on their menus. Foodservice operators like Aramark and Compass Group have revamped their purchasing to reflect a new approach to seafood sustainability. Many quickservice and fast-casual chains are sourcing seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which recognizes and rewards sustainable fishing practices.


Still, work remains. We’d like to see more chefs and restaurateurs help guests understand that salmon, shrimp, tuna and white fish are not the only fish in the sea. Some of the more populous varieties – like cod, mahi mahi or even the more obscure dogfish  also are good options. When restaurateurs share this kind of information, guests find it less daunting to start ordering these other fish. They can use our seafood suggestions to explain to guests which fish are considered sustainably safe to serve.


How can you learn more about sustainable seafood? Here are some ideas:

  1. Check out Seafood Watch’s monthly updates. Our goal is to make it easier for you to keep up with changes.
  1. Meet your fish farmers and fishermen. Get to know who is producing product in your region.
  1. Educate yourself about fish you’ve never heard of. Pay attention to what the media is reporting on to learn about varieties that may be a great fit for your menu.
  1. Talk to your purveyors. The best way to learn is to ask them the right questions about each type of seafood you sell . Find out the fish’s complete name (including its Latin species name), how it’s caught or farmed, and its place of origin.

Chefs seeking a better food system must push to make change happen. When it comes to food, our sustainability focus has largely been on land-based foods, but seafood is gaining traction. As that happens, we’re starting to see improvements in our ocean quality. Our fish populations are starting to grow again.


Let’s keep pulling in the same direction so the progress continues.

Sheila Bowman is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch manager of culinary and strategic initiatives