Frequently Asked Questions

What is food rescue?
Food rescue is the process of collecting unsold, edible, food from retail establishments and redistributing it to people who need it most. Organizations that conduct food rescue operations include food banks and meal programs. These operations require partnerships between businesses, non-profits, and public agencies to tackle complex problems like transportation, logistics, food safety, communication, storage, and re-distribution.

How is food rescue part of the bigger picture to reduce food waste? 
Prevention stops waste from occurring in the first place, rescue captures unsold food that would have gone to waste but instead is redistributed to people and composting turns this food into a resource for creating healthy soil. Preventing food waste and redistributing unsold food for human consumption achieve the greatest economic, environmental, and social benefits.

Infographic showing food waste prevention, food rescue, industrial, composting, landfill elements ordered from most to least preferred methods.
View a larger version of this graphic.

How does food waste affect food insecurity?
The national nonprofit, ReFED estimates that just 3% of surplus food is donated.1 While SPU does not know how much of the food in our garbage or compost was good to eat, the most recent state-wide waste characterization study estimated that 74% was edible.2 This is waste that could have been prevented or recovered to feed people.

In 2018, Seattle-King County Public Health surveyed Seattle food banks for their most frequently requested foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables were among the most needed foods3 and yet, according to ReFED, "constitute more than a third of total food waste nationally.4 Public Health also found that most Seattle food banks have less than 10 percent of their budget for direct food purchases.5 COVID-19 forced food banks to increase food purchases even more as donations dropped and client need skyrocketed. King County households experiencing food insecurity (lacking reliable access to sufficient, affordable, nutritious food) grew to 109,146 in September 2021.6

How has SPU involved the community?
SPU's convenings, research and small projects have included hunger relief organizations (HROs), food businesses (grocers, dining halls, quick serve retailers, and distributors), academia (University of Washington), other City departments (HSD, OSE, SDOT), and local and regional governments. SPU has also sought perspectives from foundations, healthcare organizations who treat the outcomes of food insecurity, faith-based communities who support families experiencing food insecurity, and other nonprofits working on waste reduction.

Developing new approaches to food rescue, requires putting people at the center of solutions. This means inviting a  cross section of players such as food service employees who gather and donate food, nonprofit volunteers and staff who conduct most of the food rescue operations, and ultimately, the individuals and families who rely on this surplus food for nourishment. Food rescue is an imperfect solution for managing unsold food and for addressing food insecurity. SPU's work also relies on community wisdom to avoid unintended consequences, provide dignity, and foster connection across communities.

What are the core challenges?

  • A complex, siloed system fosters competition for the same funding, food, storage, transportation, and volunteers. 
  • Absence of accurate, granular data hampers informed decisions and opportunities to leverage resources, test new approaches, and monitor progress.
  • Donors and hunger relief organizations don't have a reliable, easy-to-use tool to communicate real-time changes, needs, and improvements. 
  • Standards and protocols aren't uniformly executed to create efficiencies and alignment across donors and HROs.


1 ReFED Insights Engine. "Strengthen Food Rescue." Website accessed October 6, 2021.
2 State of Washington Department of Ecology. "2020-2021 Washington Statewide Waste Characterization Study." Publication 21-07-026. August 2021.
3 Public Health Seattle & King County. "Healthy Food Availability & Food Bank Network Report." February 2019.
4 ReFED Insights Engine. "Which Foods are Surplus?" Website accessed October 6, 2021.
5 Public Health Seattle & King County. "Healthy Food Availability & Food Bank Network Report." February 2019.
6 King County. "COVID-19 data dashboard: Food insecurity impacts."

Public Utilities

Andrew Lee, General Manager and CEO
Address: 700 5th Avenue, Suite 4900, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34018, Seattle, WA, 98124-5177
Phone: (206) 684-3000

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Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is comprised of three major direct-service providing utilities: the Water Utility, the Drainage and Wastewater Utility, and the Solid Waste Utility.