Fine dive

Ashley Chaifetz, a PhD student studying public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill writes:

As a food policy doctoral student, I pay special attention to articles on food waste and its prevention—which includes dumpster diving. This activity is at the intersection of policies on food insecurity, waste, safety, and liability—and comes with a lot of uncertainties.   This week, Tove Danovich wrote about dumpster diving for Civil Eats:

Dumpster divers of the world, unite. Last week, food waste activist Rob Greenfield offered to pay the fines and bring some media attention to anyone who gets arrested or ticketed for taking and eating tossed food.Image 2

Greenfield has been drawing attention to food waste by traveling the country, engaging local communities, and photographing the enormous quantities of wasted food he finds. Now he hopes more Americans will begin looking at the problem directly by trying it themselves by taking people’s fear of arrest and fines out of the equation.

“From what I can tell the main reason that people don’t dumpster dive is the fear of getting arrested or ticketed,” wrote Greenfield recently on his website.

Rob Greenfield makes an effort to remind people about the problem of food waste. At a loss rate of approximately 40%, Americans are tossing almost as much food as they consume. But, Greenfield’s suggestion that people do not dumpster dive due to fines seems ludicrous; it is probably due to the products.

The issue with dumpster diving that is often forgotten is food safety. Neither Greenfield nor any other dumpster diver can tell via taste or smell if the food was tossed due to pathogen contamination. Even when if food is thrown away due to cosmetic reasons, the dumpsters themselves are not clean and sanitized like a food contact surface. If a product contaminated with a pathogen was discarded into the dumpster, the products pulled by the dumpster divers may be contaminated as well.

Individuals concerned with food safety can take other actions to lessen food waste: consuming all of the food purchased, choosing the “reduced for quick sale” items, shopping in salvage grocery stores, or even encouraging large grocery chains to donate those items to food pantries and food banks (many which already do).

This entry was posted in Food Safety Culture, Food Safety Policy and tagged , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.
  • John Weber

    Yes, the reason I do not obtain my food from dumpsters is because I am worried about being fined for doing so. That’s the ONLY thing holding me back from obtaining my fresh, clean, high-quality food from the alley behind my favorite restaurant and grocery store. It’s not the flies, rodents, filth, stench, unsanitary conditions, lack of temperature control… no, not at all. It’s the threat of fines.

    Good grief, what are we becoming?

  • The context I was having with that reporter leaves out
    This is Rob. I see where the confusion is from the quote: “From what I can tell the main reason that people don’t dumpster dive is the fear of getting arrested or ticketed”
    I am specifically talking about people who want to dumpster dive. This you would have known if you were listening in on the conversation with the journalist. Easy to see where that misunderstanding came from.
    As fas being able to tell whether food is still good yes you can. If you were to see what tens of thousands of other dumpster divers have seen (and eaten) you would know this.
    But with all of that being said the purpose of my dumpster diving is primarily to bring attention to how much food is being wasted while so many are hungry and with that attention urge grocery stores to donate excess food that is still good rather than throw it away. As well as to teach others to take proper care of food. All of this information is easy to access via my website.
    Much health and happiness to you!

  • John Weber

    Rob: Thanks for being so open and willing to clarify your quote. Even though I am still highly concerned for the health and well-being of anyone who chooses to obtain their food from a dumpster (pathogens cannot be ‘seen’, as you state, and the risk for cross-contamination of foods in a dumpster is, well, astronomical), I share your concern for the amount of food that is discarded in this country. May I suggest that you make a connection with a reputable local food bank, if you have not done so already? Many do wonderful work and are already aligned with your philosophy, and have been performing their good work for decades. And I might add, food safety is at the forefront of their approach!
    All the best to you,
    John Weber