Featured Stories

Pizza dens battle hunger by the slice

New state exception will keep partial pies from going to waste
by:  JIM CLARK, St. Vincent de Paul volunteer Eugenia Swartout (left) and Jacque Grieve, manager of the food rescue program Food Train, repackaged leftover pizza slices in October before freezing them. Some county health inspectors had declared such slices ineligible for donation, but the state has made an exception to the usual time and temperature rules.

Rick Glenn says he’s finished having heated discussions with county health inspectors. They’re as cooperative as can be now, and people who eat at Portland-area food shelters are about to get regular servings of pepperoni slices as a result. In an Oct. 19 Portland Tribune article about health laws preventing leftover pizza slices from being donated, Glenn, vice president of Hillsboro-based Pizza Schmizza, said he had become frustrated trying to convince health inspectors that his leftover pizza slices were perfectly fine for donation. He also said he was tired of dumping those slices in the garbage knowing shelters are low on food. But Glenn reports that a few days after the Tribune article was published, he received a call from a Washington County inspector who had him call Dave Martin, food-borne illness prevention program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Glenn told Martin why he thought his pizza slices should be allowed to be donated. Martin agreed. And quicker than you can say, “Hold the anchovies,” the state public health division has seen fit to tweak the rules a bit. Here is the problem, or rather, was: County health inspectors need quantifiable ways to determine whether leftover food is safe or unsafe to donate because it might be contaminated with harmful bacteria that could cause illness. For most foods, health inspectors use temperature to determine food safety — prepared food must be kept above 140 degrees or below 40 degrees to be considered safe. Heat lamps and refrigerators are the primary means used to keep food hot enough or cold enough to ward off contamination. But pizza is different, especially when sold by the slice. Pizza Schmizza outlets don’t keep their pies warm under a heat lamp because that would dry them out. Their working rule is a pizza can sit on the counter 45 minutes. When somebody orders a slice it goes back into the oven to be heated. After 45 minutes, any slices that haven’t been sold get put back into the refrigerator. As far as Glenn was concerned, those refrigerated slices could be picked up by social service agencies and served to the needy. And some Multnomah County health inspectors agreed. But other health inspectors, including those who inspected Pizza Schmizza outlets in Washington County, said no. Health department rules are clear — prepared food kept at room temperature must be served within four hours and then discarded. No exceptions, they insisted. Glenn said all his protests failed to sway the inspectors, but all that has changed since his latest call to Martin. Martin explained that state law allows the public health division to approve donations to charitable organizations on a case-by-case basis. And, Martin said, they were willing to do that for Pizza Schmizza. “There was no hesitation on their part,” Glenn said. “They really went into this with the attitude of, ‘We’re going to make this work.’ ” According to Martin, the issue of foods kept at room temperature hadn’t come up before because almost all prepared food has its safety measured by temperature. In fact, when it comes to time-based food safety, Martin said, “Pizza’s about it.” Martin said the health division now would work with all willing pizza parlors to make sure they get a rules exception and are able to donate their food. Glenn says that the letter from DHS explaining the new rules is getting posted in all of Pizza Schmizza’s Oregon restaurants. Those restaurants already have begun donating their leftover food to social service agencies. “The winners are the folks who are hungry,” Glenn says. “Now they don’t have to dig in my Dumpsters. They can go to their local homeless shelter or mission.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.