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Food Loss, Waste, and Donation in India: Travel Notes from Two Student Clinicians

This blog post was written by FLPC students Taylor Dodson and Kelley McGill.


As part of the ongoing Global Food Donation Policy Atlas Project, we had the opportunity to travel to India over J-term with the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) for hands-on research regarding laws, policies, and processes surrounding food donation in the country. On this trip, we had the opportunity to learn about exciting initiatives to reduce hunger and food waste in India, as well as to meet with a diverse group of food donors, food recovery organizations, and other stakeholders operating in Bengaluru, New Delhi, and Mumbai. Unlike in many other countries, most food recovery organizations in India handle prepared foods. These organizations manage recovery of surplus food from cooked meals instead of the fresh produce or pre-packaged products intended for retail typically donated in the U.S. This unique food recovery landscape in India is being met with the innovations of recovery organizations and other stakeholders independently motivated to tackle both food insecurity and food waste.

While traveling, FLPC met with Feeding India, a nonprofit aiming to mitigate hunger by utilizing an extensive network of volunteers (over 25,000 volunteers in over 104 cities!). These volunteers, or “Hunger Heroes,” are notified when a significant amount of surplus cooked food becomes available from individuals, restaurants, corporate offices, large cafeterias, or events. Surplus food pick-ups might be set at a regular and consistent time; for example, we visited a student dormitory at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. Here, cafeteria management has coordinated with Feeding India to pick up surplus food daily at the end of lunchtime. The food is first inspected and tested via temperature and sensory checks for quality and safety, transported in temperature controlled vehicles, inspected again, and then distributed to beneficiaries in need of regular access to food. Feeding India might also be notified of unanticipated surplus available after a wedding or event. No matter the situation, Feeding India volunteers quickly mobilize.

We also met with businesses that regularly engage in, or otherwise support, food donation. While much of the food donated in India is prepared or cooked food, rather than pre-packaged food, some companies donate a mix of the two types. One corporation we met with donates its unsold prepared meals on a daily basis. The foods that the company most commonly donates are a hybrid of pre-packaged and prepared foods, including meals such as pizza, sandwiches, and rice and beans. These foods, have all been freshly prepared each day in a central kitchen, then branded and individually packaged for sale, have shorter shelf lives than typical packaged food. To ensure that the meals are as fresh as possible when they reach recipients, Feeding India has regularly scheduled pick-ups at each one of the chain’s participating convenience stores. Unfortunately, there are not yet any financial incentives encouraging food donation in India, so donors like this corporation must be intrinsically and altruistically motivated.

While in India, we were also fortunate to meet with the government agency responsible for regulating food safety: the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). This agency, in operation since 2011 and housed in the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in New Delhi, enforces the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006. In 2019, FSSAI published the Food Safety and Standards (Recovery and Distribution of Surplus Food) Regulations.[1] These regulations outline safety parameters for food donation and are a positive step towards encouraging the donation of safe, nutritious food. FLPC was impressed to see a national food safety agency such as FSSAI taking leadership and providing guidance to food donors.

Over the course of the trip, we learned a great deal about food recovery efforts in the beautiful, large, and incredibly diverse country that is India, and we are excited to watch these efforts expand even further over time.

[1] Food Safety and Standards (Recovery and Distribution of Surplus Food) Regulations, 2019, Gazette of India, pt. III sec. 4 (Jul. 26, 2019).


The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.