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Federal law protects food donors. The federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 protects businesses, governmental entities, nonprofit organizations, and individuals who donate food in good faith from civil or criminal liability should such donated food later cause harm to a recipient. While exceptions are made for gross negligence, the law states that these groups will not be subject to civil or criminal liability.

The Emerson Good Samaritan Act covers food and grocery products that meet all quality and labeling standards imposed by federal, state and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be “readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other conditions.”