Student-Powered Hunger Relief

Good Samaritan Food Donation Act

If you want to learn more about the legislation in place that keeps our Campus Kitchens safe from liability, read the information below.

Full Good Samaritan Food Donation Act Document Text here.

Q: What does it mean?

A: Prior to passage of this act, a review of state laws revealed that legislators took a variety of approaches and used a wide range of statutory language in their efforts to prevent good food from going to waste and to protect companies from liability surrounding their donations. Research of case law from all 50 states and the District of Columbia revealed that none of the state statues had been tested in court though several state attorneys general had rendered opinions regarding the applicability of food donation statues.

Because the laws differed in language and definition, determining the protection for a donor with operations in more than one state was difficult. In an effort to encourage donations of leftover food to food-rescue and charitable feeding programs, this act sets uniform definitions and language into law, replacing the state laws.

Q: What sort of food is protected?

A: The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (the “Emerson Act”) provides protection for food and grocery products that meet all quality and labeling standards imposed by Federal, State and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be “readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus, or other conditions.”

Food may include any “raw, cooked, processed, or prepared edible substance, ice, beverage, or ingredient” used or intended for use by humans. Grocery products can include nonfood products, including “disposable paper, or plastic products, household cleaning products, laundry detergent, cleaning product or miscellaneous household item.”

There are also provisions to deal with food and products that do not meet quality and labeling requirements of federal, state and local laws.

Q: Who is protected?

A: The national legislation protects food donors, including individuals, and nonprofit feeding programs who act in good faith. While exceptions are noted for gross negligence, the law states that these groups will not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the “nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product.

Q: How does the law improve on the state laws already in existence? 

A: The national legislation replaces all state laws, including those in the District of Columbia, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and all U.S. territories and possessions. Under the national law, food donors need only seek protection under one law. This should save significant time and resources on the donor’s behalf and simplify the donation process.

Q: How does the national law compare to state laws?

A: The Emerson Act has actually existed as a model for state laws since 1990 when it was placed in the National and Community Service Act of 1990, although it did not carry Bill Emerson’s name until 1996. While state laws have never been tested in courts, and food-rescue programs have worked hard to prevent even a single case of food-born illness, the national law is broader and simpler to apply.

Q: Will the legislation be repealed?

A: The national law has received widespread bi-partisan support in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both legislative bodies passed the bill by unanimous consent.  Furthermore, the Emerson Act moves the Good Samaritan Law from the National and Community Service Act of 1990 to the Childhood Nutrition Act of 1966. No challenges are expected.


If you would like to learn more about food recovery liability, please download “The Legal Guide to Food Recovery“.



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