KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 2016 : The shelves inside the Food Aid Foundation’s cold rooms in Cheras, here are stacked with packages of marinated mutton, various types of colourful traditional Malay kuih, potato chips and other delicacies.
The food will eventually be served as meals to needy denizens in the Klang Valley and for them, it is a godsend because eating such tasty fare is ordinarily beyond their means.
The irony is that the foodstuffs stored by Food Aid are either excess food or nearing their expiry dates, and are donated by hotels, supermarkets and others, which would have dumped all that good food into the trash bin if not for the timely intervention of food banks like Food Aid.
Rightly so the description of Food Aid as an “NGO that rescues surplus food from the supply chain and distributes it to people in need”.
Its operations director Hayati Ismail said it was a shame to discard edible food as it can be “rescued” and given to the poor and underprivileged.
“We collect all kinds of food… they can be wet or dry food, with a short or long shelf life. We also collect uncooked food,” she told Bernama, adding that Food Aid’s kitchen was also equipped to carry out “food re-engineering” to extend the shelf life of some of the foodstuffs.
SAFE FOR CONSUMPTION
Since Food Aid operates as a food bank, it has to have a modern kitchen fitted with various kitchen gadgets and appliances to not only prepare and store food, but to preserve it as well without sacrificing its taste and quality.
“Food safety must also be guaranteed,” said Hayati, adding that their kitchen has three cold rooms, a blast chiller, insulated cabinets, combi ovens and upright freezers.
Canned or frozen foodstuffs that were approaching their expiry date would be cooked before being packed and frozen, she added.
“There are various organisations that donate their excess food to us… if it is still edible, we will freeze it. Before the frozen food is distributed, it will go through a proper thawing process enabling it to retain 90 per cent of its freshness,” she explained.
Three years ago when Food Aid was set up, it distributed meals to only three charitable organisations. Today, the NGO has widened its reach to more than 120 organisations, providing nourishment for over 6,000 people at welfare homes, schools for children of refugees and religious schools.
And, come every Tuesday Food Aid despatches food donated by several hotels to the Homeless Transit Centre located at Jalan Pahang, here.
FOOD BANK HUB
Hayati said Food Aid intended to become a hub for other food banks and volunteer groups, whereby “they can collect food from us and channel it to the needy but with the express condition that they are barred from selling the food”.
She said it was the NGO’s mission to channel food to various welfare homes to help them reduce their food bills and use the savings for other purposes like upgrading their premises, paying for the educational needs of orphans and taking care of senior citizens’ welfare.
Food Aid, which is operated in accordance with international guidelines, has five full-time staff and a host of volunteers who help out from time to time.
There is another food saving intitiative called Grub Cycle Malaysia, run by a group of young people, that takes a different approach to ensuring the needy have enough to eat.
Its co-founder Redza Shahid Md Ridzuan said its modus operandi involve buying foodstuffs that were nearing their expiry dates and selling them to the public at below market prices.
“We use a portion of our profits to help certain needy people to subsidise their grocery shopping,” he said, adding that Grub Cycle preferred not to give free food as not all people were comfortable with the idea of having to depend on others for their daily meals.
He said each time it sold a batch of “expiring” foodstuff, Grub Cycle would buy sundries like salt, sugar, eggs, rice and cooking oil before packing them into, what they call, Grub Bags.
“Assuming the value of the goods in each bag is RM30, we will sell it to our target group at only RM15,” he said, adding that Grub Cycle, which he and his friends set up in June, is run like a social enterprise.
People interested in buying Grub Cycle’s products can check out its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts and place their orders online. Delivery is free within the Klang Valley.
Redza Shahid said his organisation only sold food products that still have one to three months left in their shelf life, thus giving their customers enough time to consume the food.
“But our customers don’t really mind the foodstuff (they buy from us) is going to expire soon as they support our initiative and know that it’s a good way to curb food wastage,” he said.
He added that Grub Cycle hoped to work with other social enterprises so that it could help more needy people to alleviate their financial burden.
Meanwhile, deputy director of the International Network Programme at Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute’s (MARDI) Corporate Communications and Quality Centre Dr Ainu Husna MS Suhaimi lauded the efforts of various organisations which went out of their way to prevent food waste from ending up in landfills.
She said every year Malaysia incurred losses of more than RM1 billion due to food loss and wastage.
“About one-third of our rice harvests are lost before reaching consumers, while 30 to 50 per cent of vegetables and fruits that don’t reach consumers end up being discarded due to various reasons.
“These statistics show that food loss and waste in this country is at a critical level,” she told Bernama.
Ainu Husna said Malaysia’s import of vegetables, fruits and rice suffered a deficit of between RM1.6 billion and RM2.3 billion.
“If our food loss and waste is reduced, we can reduce our imports and can even export more,” she added.
It has been reported that approximately 3,000 tonnes of food – enough to feed 2.2 million people – that are discarded daily in Malaysia are preventable food waste.
MARDI and the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry are the coordinators of the MYsavefood programme, aimed at promoting the reduction of food loss and food waste.
Ainu Husna urged households to help in efforts to curb food waste by donating their excess food to the needy.
“While various organisations are carrying out many programmes to save food from going to waste, much more has to be done to curtail food loss,” she said. – Bernama