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Food Rescue Interventions Are Widespread, But Are They Effective?

New Research Provides Recommendations for Assessing Impact of Food Rescue Interventions

Dec 19, 2019


Food rescue, sometimes referred to as food recovery or redistribution, is the practice of gathering safe and high-quality food that would have otherwise been wasted, and redirecting it for human consumption. A review conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Health Engineering is the first synthesis of peer-reviewed studies examining food rescue interventions.

“Many thousands of organizations across the U.S. and internationally are working to rescue food,” said Amelie Hecht, lead author of the study and CLF-Lerner Fellow. “But not much is known about the impacts of food rescue interventions, or which models of food rescue are most successful. This study is an important first step towards addressing these critical knowledge gaps.”

Researchers sought to understand how food rescue is currently evaluated through a systematic literature review. The authors searched peer-reviewed literature to identify articles that measured the impact of food rescue interventions. Nineteen articles were identified and analyzed. Authors reviewed each article to understand the nature of the food rescue program, the methodology for evaluation, and the impact of the program.

Positive effects of food rescue interventions identified in the review include returns on investment, large quantities of food rescued and clients served, and high stakeholder satisfaction. At the same time, several relevant outcomes, including client health and food security measures, were omitted from existing studies, and merit further investigation.

The authors note that although food rescue represents a critical opportunity to reduce both food insecurity and wasted food, food rescue should not be considered a primary solution for these issues. Interventions targeting the root causes of food insecurity and wasted food would be more effective, and would provide co-benefits in wellbeing as well as resource use.

The study also highlighted the importance of providing more systematic approaches to evaluating food rescue programs. The authors argue that there is a considerable need for more evaluation, evaluations of more diverse programs, and the development of consistent data collection and reporting protocols.

Food rescue evaluations should ideally consider multiple factors including nutritional, health, environmental, and financial impacts. The authors found a wide range of metrics used and outcomes reported in the existing literature. Standardizing food rescue evaluation methods would improve the comparability of different food rescue approaches, and reduce the potential for duplicated efforts and wasted resources. The authors recommend convening practitioners and researchers through an international body such as United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization’s SAVE FOOD program; or a domestic organization such as Feeding America, ReFED or the U.K. WRAP, to determine a standardized approach to evaluation metrics.

“We know that food rescue interventions are already bringing a great deal of food to people, but there is so much more we could learn about how to do it better, ways to address common challenges—even how big of an impact we’re actually having,” said Roni Neff, PhD, who directs CLF’s Food System Sustainability Program and is an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “We need solid evaluation designs and more standardized performance metrics to help identify best practices, tailor interventions based on context, and avoid unnecessary reinvention of wheels.”

Food Rescue Intervention Evaluations: A Systematic Review” was written by Amelie Hecht and Roni Neff and published in Sustainability.