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Show Your Care and Share Your Food – Make Good Use of Food Banks
Treasuring food is a virtue. Nowadays, city dwellers enjoy abundant resources. In front of various culinary delights, one may easily go overboard and as a result produce a lot of food waste. Every day, approximately 3,400 tonnes of food waste are being dumped in landfills.
Rather than wasting it, why not consider donating food to a food bank? For instance, we could bring surplus Chinese New Year festive foods to a food bank to be distributed to the needy.
What is a food bank?
“Food bank” is a general term to describe the activities carried out by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to collect, sort, store and distribute donated food to people and families in need. For example, platforms set up by voluntary groups and environmental organizations to salvage and donate food, or the collection of leftover food from restaurants, hotels, and bakeries for redistribution to the needy.
The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has launched the "Short-term Food Assistance Service Projects" in 2009 to provide food assistance to individuals or families who have difficulties coping with daily food expenditure. Currently, there are 7 operating NGOs on the projects, including St. James' Settlement, Kwun Tong Methodist Social Service, Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service, Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, Hong Kong Women Development Association Limited, Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council Limited and Po Leung Kuk.
Types of food that can be donated and other requirements
Consumers should ensure that the food for donation is suitable for consumption. Furthermore, each food bank may have its own set of requirements in accordance with its manpower and equipment situation. Before making a food donation, consumers should find out the requirements of the respective organization (See Table 1 for further details).
Food banks generally accept food donated by food manufacturers, distributors, retailers or individuals, and they accept a wide range of food items, including staple foods (rice, noodles, canned foods, etc.), supplementary foods (oatmeal, biscuits, milk powder, condensed milk, etc.), fresh foods (vegetables, fruits, frozen meat, fish, cooked foods, bread, etc.), condiments and drinks.
Some organizations have stated that they do not accept certain food types, such as items containing alcohol, raw fish, sushi, egg and milk products, and other perishable items, nor do they accept medicines (Chinese or Western) or Chinese herbs. Pre-packaged food that has been opened, passed the “use by” date or without any specified use by date will also not be accepted.
Consumers can go to the food bank’s collection sites to make the food donation. Some organizations have set up collection sites in different districts and some even put up food collection boxes in designated shopping malls. If you donate a large amount of food, you may contact the organization for door-to-door collection. Certain organizations also accept leftover food of banquets. Some organizations encourage individuals and groups to organize food donation activities / fairs to collect food that is in high demand, such as staple foods with long shelf life.
The collection sites are normally open from Monday to Friday. On weekends, they are either closed or only open in the morning. Before making a food donation, consumers should check the opening hours of the relevant organization.
Treatment of donated food
In order to ensure food safety, the donated food items will first go through screening and inspection to ensure that they are good for donation. For pre-packaged foods, they should be properly packaged and sealed. An item will be discarded if: i) it has gone moldy; ii) its packaging has faded in colour; iii) the can is bulging, dented or with seam defects; iv) it has passed the “use by” date; v) it doesn’t have proper food labels (including name of the food, list of ingredients and “use by” date, etc.).
1. A site for storage of dried foods.
2. Staff apportioning cooked foods.
3. Infant milk powder is acceptable for donation.
4. The amount of food allocation per person per week for an ordinary family.
As for door-to-door food collection, the organizations will put the food items in clean containers and cover them well. The items will be stored properly, e.g. foods that required refrigeration will be kept in the refrigerator at 4℃ or below, and will be wrapped in proper thermal packaging (if necessary) during transportation to keep the temperature.
The operating organizations will provide necessary training on food hygiene and how to handle cooked food to their food-handling staff (including volunteers, part-time and full-time employees) to, inter alia, ensure that the staff would maintain good personal hygiene during the food handling process, avoid cross-contamination, and better control the cooking time / temperature. The cooked food collected should not be reheated more than once, and any food items that have been stored at room temperature for more than 4 hours should be discarded.
If the food bank is a SWD-subsidized NGO, then in order to qualify as its recipient, one will need to meet certain income and asset criteria and go through an assessment. Recipients generally include low-income earners, the unemployed, new arrivals, street sleepers, and individuals / families encountering sudden change and facing immediate financial hardship. The organization will determine the amount / quantity of meal vouchers or pre-packaged foods to be provided based on the actual financial situation of the recipients. Some organizations require recipients to meet one of the following conditions to become members and receive food donation: 60+ of age, Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients or low-income families (less than 60% of the median income of comparable households). There are also organizations that only send food to registered charities for further distribution to the needy.
Response from SWD
The "Short-term Food Assistance Service Projects" aim to assist people with urgent and short-term needs. The operating organizations will assess the applicant’s eligibility and needs to determine the appropriate timeframe of assistance. The maximum timeframe is 8 weeks, but operators may extend the service period depending on the special needs of the recipients. As of the end of December , close to 240,000 people had benefited from the projects. The number of people receiving short-term food assistance may fluctuate from time to time and in accordance with community situation. SWD will closely monitor the situation to ensure that people in need would receive appropriate assistance.
To truly reduce food wastage, we must start from the source. Consumers should exercise self-control and avoid buying or cooking too much food. When dining out, do not over-order dishes and consider reducing the number of main courses if banquets are held. All these actions can help reduce food waste. Food is a blessing, and it is more blessed to treasure food. Starting from now, let’s all cultivate the good habit of conserving and treasuring food.
Cherish food and share resources
Food Sharing Hong Kong – a platform to share and take food
The founders of "Food Sharing Hong Kong" have initiated the project based on the concept of resource (food) sharing which has been popular in Europe, whereby refrigerators or food shelfs are put up on the streets so that anyone can share or take food, thereby solving the issue of uneven food distribution, reducing waste and promoting resource sharing. Consumers can donate fresh fruits and vegetables, dried foods and groceries, etc., except for items have passed their “use by” dates. Donors and recipients would need to do their own assessment on food safety. The project has been extended to 4 sharing stations, located in Sham Shui Po, North Point, Yau Ma Tei and Tung Chung. For further details, please refer to www.collaction.hk/s/foodsharinghk.
GreenPrice – buy food that has passed the "best before” date at low price
GreenPrice is a food store built on people’s awareness of the difference between the "best before” date and "use by” date. The founders buy food that is close to or has passed the “best before” date within several months from suppliers at a low price, and then resell it at less than 50% of the original price to consumers, in an effort to reduce the massive food waste each day. When food is delivered to the warehouse or put up for sale, the staff will do a tasting to ensure that the food is safe for consumption. If customers are not satisfied after consumption, they can request for a refund or a gift voucher. Some food will also be sold under the “pay what you want” system so that customers can set their own price. GreenPrice cooperates with various social welfare organizations from time to time to donate food and promote the concept of conserving and treasuring food. For information about its store location and online store, please refer to www.greenprice.hk.