For years, people have been enraged by all the grocery stores, coffee shops, and restaurants that just throw away food at the end of the day. It’s such a waste and a travesty, and just so… Unfair! Nationally, we’re talking about millions of tonnes of food, literal mountains (or reasonably sized hills at least), every year.

When Canadian businesses are surveyed, the ones that don’t donate, almost always cite that they’re afraid of being held liable for any problems that ‘might’ occur down the road. That sounds like a genuine concern, something that business owners should definitely be concerned about, but… is it an accurate reflection of Canadian law?

The “Fear of Liability”

Why might a business owner be held liable? Well, what if they donate food (that’s just over the near-meaningless “best before date”) and someone gets sick? Or worse? What if they donate food that seems fine (if not sellable), with the intention of helping out?

It turns out that every province, as best I could find, has laws protecting business owners from liability, provided they adhere to some sensible precautions. Here’s a list of the laws I could find around food donation and liability:

Province/Territory Law has existed since Details
Alberta 2002 Charitable Donation of Food Act
British Columbia 1997 Food Donor Encouragement Act
Manitoba 1994 The Food Donations Act
New Brunswick 1992 Charitable Donation of Food Act
Newfoundland and Labrador 1997 Donation of Food Act
Nova Scotia 2018 Volunteer Services Act (Amended)
Ontario 1994 Donation of Food Act
Prince Edward Island 1993 Donation of Food Act
Quebec 1991* Civil Code Of Quebec
Saskatchewan 1995 The Donation of Food Act

*Quebec’s laws don’t specifically mention food donation, but protect general ‘well-intended’ behaviour

Unfounded Fears

Now I’m not a lawyer, nor do I have any legal expertise (unlike these folk), but many of these are written in pretty plain English (I can’t speak for the French) and seem to straightforwardly say ‘if you’re trying to help someone and you make sure that the food is edible, you can’t be sued if things go wrong later’. Which seems to speak directly to any company’s fear of legal liability: it’s unfounded. Ideally, business owners should go have a conversation with an actual lawyer before doing anything (I’m certainly not providing legal advice here). So it is clear their concern doesn’t seem to come out of Canadian law.

Those surveys mentioned at the start of this article? Many organizations have reported on these concerns directly. Second Harvest, for example, consulted over 700 food industry experts and found that concerns about liability came up again and again.

It also turns out that there are many food donation programs in Canada for supermarkets already. Did you know that we have a national program specifically to pair retail outlets with food banks? That’s AMAZING!

Voice Your Food Waste Concerns

If you have a concern that your local grocery store (or coffee shop, or restaurant, or whatever) is throwing away good, edible food, why not ask the manager if that’s what they’re doing, and why? And maybe ask them to look into the National Food Sharing System, and stop wasting perfectly good food? Let’s help get that food away from the landfills, and to where it’s needed instead!

Article written by:

Brian Lynchehaun, Content Writer

Brian has long been interested in practical solutions to a variety of social justice issues, at the systemic level. With a BA in philosophy he is looking at everything with an interconnected macro lens.