This Tech Innovation Reduces Food Waste While Feeding People In Need

When I was in college, I worked at a deli. Every morning we would take the unsold food from the previous day and throw it in the trash. The food was perfectly edible, but we had no good system of getting it to people in need before it went bad. So instead of filling stomachs, it filled landfills.

Wasting all that food bothered me then, but it bothers me even more now that I work for Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization that serves more than 46 million Americans in need. I have met family after family who struggles to put food on the table while billions of pounds of surplus food goes to waste.

Although we have a long way to go, Feeding America has made incredible strides in rescuing large amounts of food that might otherwise go to waste. We've worked hard to develop a sophisticated logistics system that enables us to rescue 2.5 billion pounds of food -- or about 2 billion meals -- each year. Most of this however, is food that comes in large amounts from major food manufacturers, traditional retailers and farmers -- meaning most of smaller amounts leftover from restaurants, hotels, convenience stores or delis, continues to go to waste.

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While rescuing surplus food from any channel is not easy, rescuing food from local retailers and foodservice outlets is particularly difficult. This is because excess food from these sources is often highly perishable and comes in smaller volumes. For example, a local restaurant might have a surplus of food cooked that never left the kitchen. Because the cost for a food bank to mobilize a truck and staff for small donations is prohibitive, that food often ends up going to waste instead of to a community in need. Until now it's been challenging and expensive to rescue this kind of surplus food and get it swiftly and safely to the plates of people in need.

To address this problem, Feeding America launched an innovative food-rescue initiative called Online Marketplace. Online Marketplace is a toolkit that connects donors of highly perishable, small-volume food rescue directly to nearby direct service meal programs and food pantries with oversight from the local Feeding America food bank. The toolkit consists of food safety protocols, standard operating procedures and a technology platform that enables smaller food pantries and meal programs to accept donations more efficiently than ever before. In many instances, food picked up from a local retailer in the morning gets served to the local community the same day. This platform also ensures efficient recording and receipting of all donated pounds at the local level for our donors.

Google.org recently awarded Feeding America a $1.6 million grant to advance and sustain the Online Marketplace technology to source more food from the local retailers. Google.org's investment and technical expertise will make Online Marketplace even more efficient in sourcing and distributing food and ultimately, enhance our efforts to solve hunger.

Food waste is a serious problem, but the fact that 49 million Americans face hunger is an even bigger one. We are confident that Online Marketplace will help us get more food to more people in need while reducing food waste. As the program develops, Feeding America anticipates that it will help us rescue 750 million meals each year. That's 750 million meals that can stay out of landfills and instead provide nourishment -- and hope -- to families across America struggling to get by.

To learn more about Online Marketplace visit our website. To learn more about how you can get involved in fighting hunger through donating, advocating or volunteering, find and contact your local food bank. Together, we can solve hunger.

Feeding America is a partner of Cisco CSR. Cisco sponsors The Huffington Post's ImpactX section.