I want to start a restaurant that focuses on repurposing food waste by buying seconds from farms and produce wholesalers. Are there any special liability issues associated with that?
– Entrepreneur, Philadelphia
Food waste is a pressing global problem, and I think you’re being very forward thinking in incorporating ingredients that would otherwise go to waste in your business planning. Doing so can help you save money, do the right thing from an environmental standpoint and appeal to consumers who are looking to do good while eating well. Increasingly, vendors are willing to provide seconds, off-cuts, and scraps at prices that can help you be competitive. For some applications—using overripe, burst tomatoes for tomato sauce, for example—the seconds could be tastier, healthier and easier to use than the firsts. That’s the good news.
The caution is that for all operations, but for yours in particular, food safety must be paramount. A food safety problem could be damaging in reputation and finances for a conventional restaurant; for one marketing recovery of surplus food, it could be lethal. In general, be sure to focus on safe, wholesome food that may be cosmetically damaged over old and rotten. Make sure the surplus is preconsumer and was handled properly, coming from an approved vendor like a farm, produce terminal, or wholesaler, and handled—if at all—by food handlers rather than consumers. Be sure to follow the same food safety standards and protocols you would use in a conventional restaurant but with extra attention, especially in receiving and storage—products that are coming in as surplus may need to be used nearly immediately.
In terms of liability, as long as you are buying from approved sources, using compliant food handling practices and working in an inspected and approved facility, you should not have worries over an operation with more conventional sourcing. That said, be sure you are indeed following those guidelines and being scrupulous about sourcing and handling. As always, consult with your attorney and health department to be sure you are avoiding potential missteps.
More on incorporating produce seconds here.