We are at the time of year when many of us start to think about feeding the hungry.

The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday will spark food drives by churches and other service organizations. We’ll donate canned goods and frozen turkeys to ensure that no one in our community goes hungry for the holiday.

These efforts are worthy of acknowledgement and praise.

Yet, it strikes me as ironic that these admirable actions are ongoing while food waste in our country is at an all-time high.

Current estimates suggest that 40 percent of all food produced in America goes to waste. That’s about 35 billion pounds of food.

That number is unfathomable to me.

The waste takes place at all levels: Farms, manufacturers, stores, restaurants and in our own kitchens.

Leftovers that no one ate before they were past their prime, vegetables that rotted before I cooked them — I am as guilty as the next person.

That’s why it seems important to take note of this year’s 20th anniversary of the passing of the Good Samaritan Act covering food donation.

Because of its age, it’s a good bet that many folks don’t remember the law’s passage or maybe have never heard of it.

Officially known as the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, the law was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It protects donors and gleaners from criminal and civil liability arising out of food donations made in good faith to the needy.

The bill applies to grocery stores, food producers, farms, caterers and individuals.

The Good Samaritan Act is especially helpful to grocery stores, which pull food from their shelves when it is close to its “sell by” dates, even though the item might be safe for consumption for a long time after. In fact, making product dating less ambiguous has been targeted as one way to substantially decrease food waste.

The law is a good thing for all of us to keep in mind as the holidays near.

Excess catering trays from the office holiday party, or that ham sent to you as a corporate gift — there’s a soup kitchen out there that would be happy to take them off your hands.

Feeding the hungry in our community is the most important act of kindness we can commit. Doing so, by wasting less food, makes it a win-win situation.

This season, let’s commit to both.
— Lisa Abraham writes about food for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Email her at labraham@dispatch.com or follow her on Twitter at @DispatchKitchen.