We hear from a lot of food businesses and farms that are worried about the legal liabilities of donating food and wonder, “Am I liable for donating food?” We’re here to relieve these concerns and spread word about the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which provides liability protection for food donations made in good faith.
The Good Samaritan Act was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, yet it’s still a common misconception among the public and those in the food industry that a company can be liable if a recipient of donated food becomes sick after receiving the product. That’s why we’ve spelled out the specifics of the the protections offered to food businesses under the law:
Who is covered?
Good faith donors, including individuals, wholesalers, distributors, nonprofits, farmers, gleaners, and restaurants are protected, except in cases of gross negligence (intentionally donating food that is known to cause harm to the recipient).
What type of food qualifies?
The donated food must be “apparently wholesome” or an “apparently fit grocery product” and meet “all quality and labeling standards imposed by Federal, State, and local laws and regulations,” even if it is not “readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions.” Source: RecyclingWorks Massachusetts
Are there cases of liability for food donors?
“We conducted extensive, nationwide legal research looking for lawsuits against food donors alleging liability for harm from donated food. We found absolutely no cases —no claims filed and no judicial decisions — whatsoever. The apparent absence of litigation or other disputes related to food donation demonstrates that fears of lawsuits and negative publicity related to mishaps with donated food are overstated and largely illusory barriers to food recovery.” Source: Nicole Civita, Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, Food Recovery - A Legal Guide
For those in Massachusetts, we recommend checking out this fact sheet on liability protections for Massachusetts food donations by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.