Operating a Charitable Food Service in California

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Operating a soup kitchen, providing boxed meals to people in need, and other food-related charitable work is a profoundly important source of life-sustaining nutrition for many families. Any organization that handles food needs to be mindful of special obligations that come it. A few straightforward legal strategies can help manage an organization’s risks.

The risks associated with food

Food safety is a challenge that anyone with a kitchen knows about. The recent outbreak of E. coli in Romaine lettuce demonstrated that inadequate food safety processes could result in serious illness or even death. The potential for contamination and resulting disease has led to the adoption of a wide range of regulations at the state and federal levels. Complying with applicable regulations is essential to protecting customers and the organization. Among other things, these regulations require staff and volunteers to be trained and to follow certain procedures.

The most “high cost” risk of working with food is the possibility that someone gets seriously ill as a consequence of the organization’s negligence. Failing to comply with regulations can form the basis of a claim of negligence in some circumstances. Noncompliance could also result in the organization’s operation being shut down by food safety inspectors until compliance can be re-established.

Strategies for managing risk

Managing the risks associated with providing food services takes some planning and effort. Every organization needs to examine its unique circumstances, plans, and resources. There are a few steps that might be helpful:

  • Get the right advice. Good management is key to maintaining compliance with food safety regulations. Having an experienced manager overseeing the program is probably the most important way an organization can protect itself from problems.
  • Compartmentalize. Organizations that have other operations may benefit from organizing a separate legal entity to operate its food services. The unique entity can shield the parent organization from legal risks and help to keep food-related matters organized in a vehicle that can be managed independently from the parent.
  • Have policies in place before launch. Time is money, but taking the time to closely examine how food will be handled and delivered and adopting polices to ensure safety is important. It is better to take an extra week to verify that everything is ready to go rather than to launch too early.

The Church Law Center assists all kinds of nonprofits

The Church Law Center of California works with religious and secular nonprofits throughout California. We help organizations develop governance and compliance plans, with an eye toward managing risk and supporting their missions. Call us at (949) 689-0437 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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