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Food rescue in Surrey: ‘Just because you can’t sell it doesn’t mean it’s not good food’

How the FoodMesh program connects grocery stores with charities that help feed the hungry
At the Fresh St. Market store in the Panorama area of Surrey, receiver Moosa Azizi hands a box of donated food to Mani Rajaram, a volunteer driver with Cloverdale Community Kitchen, as part of the FoodMesh program. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Tom Truchan remembers a time not long ago when perishable food that didn’t sell was tossed in garbage bins at grocery stores, so he welcomes programs like FoodMesh working to reduce unnecessary food waste.

“Years ago stores would get maybe once-a-week pickup from a food bank,” said Truchan, director of food safety with Georgia Main Food Group. “So that’d be dry grocery products like canned beans and pastas, that stuff would go, and then bakery, some bread, because bread will last a few days. But anything that was highly perishable was all just going to the landfill.”

Today, the company’s grocery stores are diverting an estimated 90 per cent of edible food to hungry people in Metro Vancouver, including milk, cheese, meat, produce, bread, unsold sandwiches, pre-made pizzas and pretty much everything else found on grocery store shelves.

In Surrey, Georgia Main’s two Fresh St. Market stores are part of the FoodMesh program, now eight years running.

“We’re a Vancouver-based company,” said Jessica Regan, CEO and co-founder of FoodMesh, “and our job is to be the support infrastructure to connect food surplus with a recipient network of charities, farmers and alternative outlets for good, beautiful food that’s just unfortunately not sell-able but still rescue-able.”

Some of that food is past the “best before” date printed on the label, and that’s OK.

“On most products, a best-before date means that’s when it’s past its peak freshness,” Truchan clarified, “so after the best-before date, the quality might start to decline but it’s probably still good to eat. You know, it’s like the clock starts ticking once you open a product.”

More than half of the food produced in Canada goes to waste, Regan says – “staggering statistics” that highlight “the deep flaws in Canada’s food system.”

Georgia Main Food Group’s Tom Truchan with produce donated to CityReach Care Society, which serves people living in Surrey and Vancouver. (Contributed photo)

Through FoodMesh, more than 220 charities are distributing food to people facing food insecurity. Georgia Main Food Group has donated close to 3.5 million meals since their partnership began in 2020.

“Our model is that we have one lead charity to pick up, and then they share it with a network of smaller agencies,” Regan explained. “It’s a hub-and-spoke model, then there’s a farmer network that can take what is no longer edible, and so it’s really making sure that we’re directing that food to the best end-use.”

Food pickup is done daily at the Fresh St. Market store in the Panorama area of Surrey, twice weekly by Mani Rajaram, volunteer driver with Cloverdale Community Kitchen.

“It really helps,” he said, “because on average we feed around 600 families a day, and that involves the food bank, mobile meals and community meals where a lot of this food is used for cooking.”

Moosa Azizi, receiver at the store, makes sure the boxes and crates of food are ready for pickup.

“We don’t want the stuff sitting around longer than it needs to, as fresh as possible, and make sure it doesn’t go to waste,” Azizi said. “Not every place has a program like this, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff go to waste. It’s a no-brainer.”

Food waste is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, Regan noted.

“Retailers we work with, the decisions they’re making are helping reduce those greenhouse gas emissions,” she said, “and that’s a big deal because there’s the social impacts, there’s the environmental impact and the financial impact. By doing the right thing, it actually has a kind of a triple-bottom-line benefit.”

Regan said there are 60,000 nonprofits across Canada doing food rescue.

“It’s invisible work,” she said. “Our job is not only helping create the matching and making sure that it’s reliable pickups, but also measuring it to put a spotlight on this work because it’s really important work that’s happening. In Metro Vancouver alone, there’s about 800 organizations directly benefiting from food rescue. We help make the best of the surplus situation, because there’s always going to be food surplus. Consumers are very particular and, you know, just because you can’t sell it doesn’t mean that it’s not good food.”

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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