Food safety policies are good. We can be thankful and sleep better knowing our government takes measures to insure the safety of our food supply chain. But when policies overreach at the expense of feeding children and families in need, it's time for someone to question "Why?"
In 2017 in Charlotte, NC a food recovery program run by our own former National Student Director Hanna Wondmagegn was shut down. Now, in Chatham County NC, teacher Joanna Hedrick’s Food Bus program has been shut down on everything except non-perishable items. Both Hanna and Joanna were asked to comply with a May 2016 memo from the N.C. Public Health Department that stated only “unserved food is allowed to be donated.” The number of food items allowed to be recovered within the restrictions of this memo is negligible.
Many North Carolinians have contacted Food Rescue frustrated they can't get started with K-12 Food Rescue due to their state being out of step with USDA policies for school food donations. The local Retail Food Program Supervisor in Ms. Hedrick’s county explained the ultimate reason for the shutdown of her school’s Food Bus program: the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the NC Department of Public Instruction agree “that potentially hazardous foods may not be shared at sharing tables at schools. The NCDHHS NCDPI memo from May 2016 still stands. Only non-potentially hazardous foods may be shared at these sharing tables.”
A serious revision of the NC Public Health Department’s memo regarding sharing tables at schools is long overdue. It is tragic for NC to be prohibiting the collection of perishables when the USDA and over 20 states have written guidelines for the safe recovery of unopened and unpeeled food items from the trays of students. These USDA guidelines insure that recovered “potentially hazardous foods” remain safe, allowing those foods be eaten instead of going into the garbage.
Scott Coleman, NC Public Health Department’s communication manager, was quoted in a recent digital article by Xpress: “Ultimately, it’s up to the schools to decide what they feel comfortable donating,” However, Mr. Coleman’s statement falls flat since, clearly, local health department officials and school nutrition personnel are bound to uphold the May 2016 memo.
The photos below of Siler City Elementary School’s Food Bus program while it was still operational demonstrate the type and amount of food that is now sadly forced to be thrown away. During the 10 months Ms. Hedrick’s program was running, 13,000 pounds of food were recovered. The West Chatham Food Pantry happily accepted the school’s recovered food. Food Pantry director Frieda Hackney misses the daily donations the school previously provided. All the food that once fed children and families in need is now feeding a landfill.
In Indiana and so many other states, students are allowed to protect our environment from the harmful greenhouse gases that result from rotting food in landfills. They are allowed to make the choice to feed families in need instead of feeding landfills. Comprehensive changes to NC’s far-too-restrictive policies related to school food recovery are long overdue.
Meanwhile, Johnston County Schools in North Carolina promote Share Tables openly with no resistance from local health departments or nutrition services with in the state. Check out the video on their school district's website.
Hanna Wondmagegn is the inspired student leader fighting for change in NC. She is now a Sophomore at UNC, and here story and videos can be seen at the link below.