How FoodBank SA saves food from landfills

South Africa is considered a ‘food secure’ nation, yet 12 million South Africans go to bed hungry each night. One survey found that 77% of all households were either moderately or severely food insecure.

Organisations like FoodBank SA  are trying to address this. FoodBank’s Johannesburg branch manager DONOVAN NAIDOO told Firdaus Khan how the organisation sources and distributes excess food from supermarkets to 3,000 needy South Africans each day.

Millions of South Africans go to bed hungry every day and yet a third of all the food in South Africa goes to waste. In Johannesburg alone, there are 103 organisations that collect donor food from us on a monthly basis.  Nationally, more than 500 organisations benefit from donor food from FoodBank. This includes old age homes, creches, orphanages, community kitchens and shelters. Each organisation gets a minimum of 200kg of food per month. The larger organisations get up to 600kg a month. These organisations must be registered non-profit organisations and they must meet certain FoodBank criteria, like having decent premises and kitchens in good working order so that they can handle and distribute the food appropriately.

On average, about 3,000 people per day are fed through FoodBank SA. We collect donated stock from Pick ‘n Pay, Cambridge Foods, Nestle and other individual companies every morning. We receive food groceries, like pap, rice and canned food, as well as snack foods  and household groceries, like detergents. Once the stock is sorted out, it is defaced with a FoodBank sticker that says “NOT FOR RESALE”.

Some of the products are nowhere near expiry – they may just have damaged packaging. The retailer market rule is that every item on a shelf has to be in perfect condition, because consumers are paying for it. So it can’t be sold on the shelves, but is still good for consumption. You get some instances where a case broke and it cannot be distributed to the store because they distribute in case lots. The balance they are left with, they then donate to us. We get donations like this on a weekly basis.

Items that have under a month of shelf-life, like cereals and maize meal, are distributed as soon as possible.

At one point we were buying fruit and vegetables for distribution, but now we have a virtual FoodBank, which allows our collecting organisations to collect perishables and baked goods directly from stores. These collecting organisations fill out and send a document to me on a weekly basis, to say what they’ve collected and how much of it. This is broken down into rations, to ensure that every organisation receives equally.

Getting quality protein is a problem. Meat, chicken or fish is something that would be really appreciated by the communities that we assist. We don’t get donated fish or beef right now, but we are looking into it.

South African health laws are very strict and this puts us in a very tight situation with handling meat products. The procedures that need to be followed when meat is sold at retail would be the same procedures we need to follow when distributing. There are rules that prohibit us from keeping the food for more than a certain amount of time.

If we were to get meat, chicken or fish, the donors would have to provide us with certain certificates, and there’s a process that they would need to follow to do this. If there is  a problem with the meat, they’d have to answer for that. This is why they find it much easier to dispose of meat instead of donating it.

But donations like these would be a major boost for the recipients, who often live off basics like pap and canned goods. Some of them don’t eat meat the entire month.

We are now trying to get a company that works with chicken to supply to us. Due to their short shelf-life, these products need to be cooked within a specific time. It would need to be distributed on the same day or by the next morning. We are working on getting freezers to accommodate this.

Retailers who donate to us receive a tax certificate, and they get a rebate when they file their taxes, so there is some incentive for them to donate.

Still, the main challenge is trying to get people to donate food. Most of the organisations we deal with are in the townships, and they require a lot of pap. It would be a great help if we could get the companies that manufacture or supply pap or maize meal to assist us. If they could come aboard by supplying us with a certain amount of stock each month, it would make a huge difference in stopping the hunger.

To find out more about FoodBank SA or to donate, visit their website.


– As told to Firdaus Khan
– Featured image via Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) on Flickr.

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