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Store looks for ways to use surplus food wisely

Avoiding waste is key to diversion program
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The Buy-Low company is hoping to set up a program to avoid sending as much surplus food to the landfill as possible. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

The Buy-Low grocery store chain has hired a Vancouver-based company to help its stores avoid sending as much food as possible to landfills once it is considered unsalable yet still usable.

Foodmesh is already gauging interest in the area through social media channels.

The goal is to put surplus food to “its highest and best end use,” Foodmesh communications manager Megan Czerpak said.

“This means we help them ensure that the maximum volume of unsalable food is donated to charitable organizations first, so it can be turned into meals for those facing food insecurity,” she said.

“Food that is more suited to animal feed is donated to hobby farmers, and anything left over is composted.”

To that end, Foodmesh is working with all 26 Buy-Low Foods stores in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, including the store in Houston.

Its specialty is developing or managing a network that can receive food from a local store.

“Our services connect organizations with surplus food to other organizations that can put it to good use, so together, we can waste less and feed more,” Foodmesh explains on its website.

The company’s roots go back to 2015 when its founders began to investigate food waste.

“They learned that food was often wasted because it was easier and cheaper for food businesses to pay to have their overstock, close-to-expiry, aesthetically imperfect, and mislabelled food sent to landfills than to find an alternative use for it,” the Foodmesh website states.

“Almost none of the dates stamped so carefully on our food packaging—“best by,” “sell by,” “use by”—indicate safety. They are manufacturer guidelines for when food is at its peak quality, a standard that is more concerned with taste and sales than consumer welfare,” it continues.

In total, Foodmesh estimates that 45 per cent of food typically discarded by retailers is still edible.

The first retailer to hire on Foodmesh was Save-On Foods and that was in 2018 with the Save On store in Chilliwack being first on the list.

As of now, all of the 187 Save-On-Foods stores have a recovery program providing unsold but still perfectly good food to more than 3,000 groups and hobby farmers in the four Western provinces and the Yukon Territory, said Czerpak.

She said food programs can be scaled up or down to meet local circumstances.

One example given was at the Buy Low Foods store in Boyle, Alberta where Foodmesh replaced an informal system with a define program resulting in an increase of food donations to the local food bank, Czerpak added.

As of now, Foodmesh is looking for hobby farmers interested in obtaining feed.

“We are looking for farmers who would be interested in picking up farm feed donations consisting of produce, bakery, and dairy items at least once a week to feed their animals,” the company said of the Houston area on social media.