Although many of us will share a bountiful table of food with loved ones this holiday season, there are many for whom putting food on the table is a struggle (and not just during the holidays). At the same time, 40% of food in the United States goes to waste. How do we, as a society, address these sister issues of hunger and waste?

There are lots of reasons for this waste, including confusion surrounding food date labels, inefficiencies in supply chain management, logistical challenges to dealing with transporting and distributing food, and consumer-level practices. A complex problem like this requires multiple solutions.

One way to address these issues is to help food businesses understand how they can redirect to those in need food that might otherwise be thrown out. Although some food businesses are already donating food to food banks and other food distribution organizations, there is room for many more to join the efforts. Businesses, understandably, may be concerned about liability for the food they donate.

The federal government and many state governments have so-called Good Samaritan Food Donation laws. The federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides civil and criminal liability protection for food donors that donate, in good faith, “apparently wholesome food” to non-profit organizations that distribute that food to those in need. Food that may not be saleable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other conditions may be donated, as long as the donated food meets all quality and labeling standards imposed by all levels of government. Though broad, the liability protection is not absolute. It will not attach in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Food that may not be saleable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other conditions may be donated, as long as the donated food meets all quality and labeling standards imposed by all levels of government.

Businesses on the receiving end of food donations also have liability concerns about receiving donated food. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides similar liability protection for non-profit food donation recipients. State food donation liability protection laws vary by state, but provide largely the same protection as the federal law does.

Businesses donating and non-profit organizations receiving food might consider having a form food donation agreement. From a donor perspective, including terms that require the non-profit recipient to meet all food safety and quality regulations as it handles and distributes the food may help mitigate concerns. As a food donation recipient, putting into writing the expectations that the donated food meet the apparently wholesome criteria creates an affirmative representation of the food’s quality that would be the basis for defending a food safety claim.

It is a most wonderful time of year, and yet the need for giving extends far beyond the six weeks between the middle of November and the New Year. By recognizing the protection afforded by Good Samaritan Food Donation laws, food businesses can help redirect food to those in need while also reducing food waste at all points throughout the year. Now that is something worth celebrating.