The monthly update for our most dedicated supporters from Gidi Kroch
Necessity for Food Safety in Food Rescue
Leket Israel’s meal rescue program is unique on a global scale. Leket rescues cooked food that would have otherwise been discarded if not for its one of a kind initiative. The nutritional value of the meals is exactly what Leket Israel’s beneficiaries need and want and therefore it is a flagship program that Leket continues to develop. The ongoing challenge of this program is food safety.
Over the years, Leket has developed the operational side of the program and also worked on the legal aspect of it which bore fruit at the end of 2018. Leket Israel was instrumental in legislating the Food Donation Act in the Knesset this past October. The new law protects organizations wanting to donate critically needed food to Israel’s poor by removing civil and criminal liability claims, providing that they adhere to food safety guidelines developed by Leket Israel in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. These regulations will ensure that the food distributed is safe.
On the operational side, Leket Israel needs to be extremely vigilant about food safety. One of the biggest issues in rescuing cooked food is the fear of food poisoning. Throughout the collection and redistribution process, the food can become vulnerable to different types of bacteria, some more suspect than others. At every stage, Leket Israel employees and its nonprofit partners, must adhere to strict food handling guidelines to ensure the safety of the food. These protocols were developed by Leket with the support and oversight of one of the best food safety experts in Israel.
The cycle of food rescue begins in the suppliers’ kitchens of hotels, corporate cafeterias, IDF army bases, etc., and ends once the food is consumed. Leket Israel only rescues food from the ovens of licensed kitchens under the supervision of the ministry of health and only food that is more immune to spoiling. No fish, dairy or salads are collected due to the susceptibility of these foods to form bacterial infestation. The food is only retrieved at a certain temperature, the hot/cold chain is kept intact, and refrigeration and reheating temperatures are monitored. Each tray is labelled with the date and location of the pickup so any issues can be traced back to its source. The food is also sporadically tested by a laboratory.
Next, the food is transferred from the supplier to a hub where the food is stored overnight. The next morning, the food is heated to the proper temperature and transported to one of over 60 nonprofits who receive hot meals from Leket Israel. At serving time, the temperature must also be checked and reported.
Maintaining Food Safety Standards
Food Safety Inspectors from the Nutrition Education and Food Safety Department at Leket Israel visit the nonprofits on a regular basis to do routine checks at each location. After these visits, the inspectors create a report which identifies gaps in Leket Israel procedures, listing all the items that need to be fixed before the next visit. Issues range from usage of cloth towels instead of paper to the need for new refrigeration systems. Quarterly, each NPO receives an update of everything that they have successfully resolved and the outstanding issues that still need to be addressed. Leket Israel’s specific and short checklists help the NPOs see how few things need to be done in order to pass their inspection. NPOs that have more significant problems receive hands-on guidance from the Leket Nutrition Education and Food Safety Department staff until they can meet the proper hygiene standards required.
Food Safety Training
One of the most important components to food safety is education. Smadar Hod Ovadia, Director of Nutrition Education and Food Safety at Leket Israel, believes that by training every Leket Israel driver, food collector and NPO staff member involved in the food rescue process on the importance of food safety, she can ensure compliance with the rules.
“When they understand exactly what they’re doing and why, they’re much more likely to cooperate,” says Smadar. “Every time we train a new supplier or NPO with the safety regulations, we are minimizing the chance of food poisoning. Most of the communities that the NPOs support are weaker, for example, children and the elderly, and therefore, are more vulnerable to disease. We are all just looking out for what’s best for the recipients.”
Occasionally, there are nonprofits who do not have the financial capacity to upgrade their kitchens. In these cases, Leket Israel is able to contribute infrastructure support. Leket Israel provides NPOs with new refrigerators, ovens, storage facilities and more.
Food Safety Successes
Leket Israel is proud of the strides it’s made in developing and enforcing strict safety measurements. Last year, after an NPO in Tzfat received a letter of dismissal for not adhering to the guidelines, it began to improve its conditions to better meet Leket Israel’s standards. Over the course of a few months, with the support of Smadar and her staff, the very same NPO became Leket Israel’s newest hub, distributing cooked food to nearby organizations.
“The quality of the food the nonprofits receive, combined with the money that they save from not having to buy food, enables them to provide better services for their clients”, concludes Smadar. “By abiding to these regulations, the organizations are able to expand their reach and feed more people in need.”
Currently, Leket Israel rescues 2.2 million meals annually. The annual potential, as it is outlined in the Leket Israel Food Waste and Food Rescue Report (2016), is 64 million meals. At one meal a day, it is enough to serve a nutritious meal to more than 175,000 individuals every day. This is 10% of the needy population is Israel. It is where Leket Israel is striving to be, and beyond.