The key to safe donation is ensuring hot food stays hot and cold food stays cold, Siddiqui says. MGM Resorts worked with internal food safety experts to establish standard operating procedures.
Blast-chilling technology has been key to MGM Resorts’ program as it allows Three Square to store food up to 90 days. “This allows us to get hot food down to safe temperatures as quickly as possible,” Siddiqui says. “We think [blast chilling] will be key to scaling this type of food donation across the industry.”
Because the infrastructure for food rescue is expensive, not all food pantries are able to accept cooked food. MGM Resorts provided a grant of $768,000 to Three Square to fund equipment, staff and transportation for the program. However, food pantries that do not accept cooked food can still pick up leftover, unused ingredients and packaged snacks.
In Austin, Central Texas Food Bank will accept any food that has remained sealed like granola bars, chips and containers of ingredients. The pantry directs planners to other local organizations that can pick up cooked food like Keep Austin Fed. Working directly with grocery stores and food vendors, as well as hotels and conference centers, to pick up leftover food, the pantry typically works with two to three events a month depending on the time of year, says Felicia Pena, community engagement director at Central Texas Food Bank.
Pena recommends planners try to estimate a head count to reduce the amount of food left over from an event. To coordinate a leftovers pickup, it’s important to gather information that will ensure it takes place efficiently, asking questions such as: Is there a loading dock? Are there any traffic concerns a driver would need to know about?
In addition to leftover food, organizations are working with the meetings and events industry to prevent flowers from being thrown in the trash and sent to landfills. Jennifer Grove knows firsthand the volume of floral waste created by events, having previously owned a boutique event company.
To lengthen the life of her event floral pieces, she started bringing leftover blooms home with her as well as handing them over to friends and neighbors. Seeking out those who could use a beautiful bouquet, Grove began bringing leftover event flowers to a hospice facility. “The most rewarding and fulfilling part of that gift is the immediate emotional impact we can make,” Grove says. “You see the joy on the patients’ faces.”
Grove launched her social-impact sustainability business, Repeat Roses, in 2014. In four years, the company’s reach has expanded from New York City throughout North America. The required lead time for Repeat Roses to schedule a pickup in New York City is 24 hours, whereas planners in other locations need to give 30 days’ notice for a pickup. Each excursion’s service fee starts at $1,500 based on the size and scale of the event’s floral plan.