Utilize Unserved Conference Food To Fight Local Hunger

By partnering with a local food bank, meeting planners can overcome the perceived safety risks and donate unused food to a noteworthy cause.

Determining how much food to order to feed conference attendees can be tricky. A miscalculation can result in either hungry attendees or trays of food being tossed into the trash.

Although most meeting planners would prefer to donate unserved food to local food banks and charities instead of wasting it, many conference venues aren’t aware of how to safely donate food. Many venues site their insurance policies as a reason not to donate unserved food, saying it’s a liability despite the fact that a 1996 federal law encourages food donations by protecting entities from liability when they donate to a non-profit organization and from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient.

Meeting planners who want to ensure that unserved banquet food is donated to a local charity know it’s important to plan ahead and find a local charity to partner with before their event even takes place. Feeding America maintains a database of local food banks to potentially partner with, and nonprofit Rock and Wrap It! put together a checklist that explains step-by-step how to donate unserved banquet food.

One company that has set itself apart from the competition by working through the perceived legal barriers and safety risks associated with donating unserved food is MGM Resorts International. By partnering with Three Square Food Bank, MGM Resorts has developed a program to donate high-quality unserved food to Three Square Food Bank. Hunger relief agencies can then order this food in an effective and efficient way from Three Square to serve their clients-the food insecure people in the community.

In 2016, MGM Resorts worked with a major convention client, Cisco, and Three Square to develop a safe process to rescue unserved hot and cold food from banquets at ARIA Resort & Casino, says Yalmaz Siddiqui, MGM Resorts vice president of corporate sustainability. Once this process was worked out, MGM Resorts started rescuing other types of food such as minibar items (snacks, juices and sodas), and kitchen ingredients including uncooked meat and produce, and unserved milk.

These types of food donations now occurring on a regular basis at MGM Resorts’ five main convention resorts—ARIA, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and The Mirage, Siddiqui says. “We’ve now donated over 800,000 pounds of food across these three food types,” he says. “That’s over 600,000 meals in less than three years.”

Those meals have gone a long way in helping to feed local residents. Nearly 13% of the population in Clark County is food insecure, meaning residents don’t have consistent access to sufficient healthy food, according to Three Square. In fact, Three Square is southern Nevada’s only food bank and the distribution hub for the community’s emergency food services.

Working together, MGM Resorts and Three Square perfected a unique process for managing perishable prepared foods. Typically when unserved banquet food is donated, it’s collected and redistributed for immediate consumption at a food bank, Siddiqui says. But MGM Resorts and Three Square decided to try something different in 2016. Instead of serving the food immediately, unserved food from MGM Resorts is blast chilled and then frozen, and saved in a bulk freezer where it can be stored for up to 90 days. As long as the unserved food meets certain temperature thresholds (above 135 degrees for hot food; below 41 degrees for cold food) it is considered safe for donation. This process give hunger relief agencies access to specific food types in the specific quantities, Siddiqui says. It also allows Three Square to serve more agencies throughout the region rather than just focusing on a few that are closest to MGM properties.

To solidify its partnership with Three Square, MGM Resorts awarded the hunger relief agency a $768,000 two-year grant this year to help it build the core infrastructure for large-scale food rescue in the region. The funds have been used to hire a dedicated food rescue team, design and test new equipment, buy pans to transfer the food, pay for fuel for transportation and utility bills for blast chilling and freezing, Siddiqui says. Under the partnership, MGM provides the food, the funds, and the intellectual and logistical support from its kitchen staff and sustainability experts while Three Square collects, transports, stores and redistributes the food to charities that serve the food to people in need.

“MGM Resorts has helped to establish a successful, standardized process for safe collection, preservation and service of surplus food that will help reduce hunger in southern Nevada that others will be able to follow,” says Maurice Johnson, Director of Operations, Three Square Food Bank. “Three Square is now able to rescue food from best-in-class hospitality companies on the Las Vegas Strip.”

MGM Resorts and Three Square have created a win-win-win situation. “Our properties win because our employees are proud to work for a company that gives back in this unique and a meaningful way; charities win because they receive high quality food in an efficient and effective manner; and our customers win because they know their unserved food from their banquets will likely not be wasted, and will be repurposed to feed hungry people,” Siddiqui says. Meeting planners love this partnership and so do conference attendees.

MGM Resorts offers 4 million square feet of meeting and convention space within a two-mile stretch on the Las Vegas Strip. Advanced designs feature robust and creative meeting options to meet the ever-changing needs for collaborative and productive work spaces. To learn more, view our available venues throughout the city.

(MGM Resorts)