Cincinnati Nonprofit Last Mile Food Rescue Wants Your 'Expired' Food

The nonprofit organization rescues food that would otherwise end up in the garbage and distributes it to those in need around Greater Cincinnati.

Jul 13, 2023 at 7:00 am
click to enlarge Last Mile Food Rescue saves truck-loads of food from being thrown out, sometimes just because of the way it looks. - Photo: Milad Fakurian, Unsplash
Photo: Milad Fakurian, Unsplash
Last Mile Food Rescue saves truck-loads of food from being thrown out, sometimes just because of the way it looks.
Last Mile Food Rescue is on a mission to rescue food that would otherwise be thrown away and deliver it to those in need around Cincinnati. The nonprofit organization relies on a group of about 800 volunteers and its small in-house team to locate and retrieve food from participating restaurants, large events, warehouses, individuals and any other place where food waste is common.

“If food is safe, we will accept it and move it along down to our neighbors that need it,” Erik Hyden, Food Donor Solicitation Manager and former “lifelong kitchen guy,” tells CityBeat.

Hyden says that sometimes the reason food is wasted is because of misinformation surrounding how to approach “use by, sell by and best by” dates.

“The only FDA regulated date on any food type in this country is on baby formula,” Hyden says. “Every other date that is on a food package is a suggestion.”

According to its 2022 impact report, Last Mile Food Rescue has recovered and distributed 4 million pounds of food since 2020. Its fleet of volunteers pick up food and deliver it straight to the appropriate outlet. Last Mile provides food to more than 70 charities, food pantries, churches, shelters, schools and other organizations depending on what kind of food is donated.

“A way to think about us is that we are a point to point logistics company,” he says. “We don't bank food, we don't store it. We don't distribute other than a few kind of caveats to that. We are in charge of creating relationships with food donors, people that have a good, healthy surplus of food that otherwise would end up in a landfill and become greenhouse gasses. We make contact with those people, and then match their food with a local agency.”

A trailer full of broccoli rescued from Kroger will go to a different place than a tray of vegetables from a local restaurant, Hyden says. And yes, trucks full of food are wasted more often than anyone would guess and for a number of reasons, including a fast-approaching expiration date or if the food looks unappetizing.

“The thing that makes somebody not want to buy a gallon of milk is that it’s two days away from its so-called expiration date in the store,” Hyden says. “We are very accustomed to wanting the most pristine-looking food. So if an apple, a banana or something like that isn't 100% visually what we're expecting, the seller is going to not want to get involved with it.”

According to Last Mile Food Rescue’s website, 270,000 people in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas face food insecurity. And that number accounts for more than 80,000 children, it says. About 40% of food produced gets thrown away, according to data compiled by the organization.

One large Cincinnati event that Last Mile Food Rescue made sure to participate in this year was Taste of Cincinnati. Hyden participated in the event as a vendor for many years when he worked as a cook at McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks, and said he saw firsthand the need for some form of waste management. Through their participation in Taste of Cincinnati, the nonprofit was able to donate a lot of leftover food from the event to Last Mile partnered with The Chamber of Commerce to inform vendors about the nonprofit's participation in this year's Taste of Cincinnati event, a lot of the food rescued was donated to the homeless shelter, Shelterhouse, Hyden says.

“The participation was great. It was over 1,000 pounds of food that was able to be saved,” he says. “And I think with a little bit better planning and some more hands on deck, we could do even more next time. We also were able to get, kind of proof of concept, and see that it’s worthwhile doing events like this.”

Last Mile Food Rescue is always accepting new participation on any part of the cycle, whether you'd like to be a donor, receiver, volunteer or coordinator, the organization suggests everyone should “be a food donor instead of a food dumper.”

“It's always been kind of looked at in the food service industries, specifically in warehouses, that waste and shrink is just the cost of doing business,” Hyden says. “At this point, if we don't figure out a better way to handle our food waste that's going into landfills, we just don't have a choice, we have to do that. The pressures on the community from food insecurity are growing daily. Food insecurity hits the elderly and children the most. So it's everybody's job to figure out how to do this. And it's really not a supply issue, it's a transportation issue, the food is there, it’s being thrown away and that's where we come in.”

For more information about Last Mile Food Rescue or how to become a donor or recipient, visit its website.

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