Two-thirds of food manufacturers, distributors and convenience stores dump their surplus food, though 85 per cent of them say they have a policy on handling their excess goods, a study commissioned by Oxfam has found.
Surplus food dumped each year in the territory amounts to HK$60 million in value, which is equivalent to providing about three million food bank meals at HK$20 each, the study said.
Legal liability for food donated is the main concern which deters about 90 per cent of food retailers and manufacturers surveyed from giving their surplus goods to charities such as food banks.
The survey, conducted by Policy 21, a company set up by University of Hong Kong academics, in September and October asked 225 branches of convenience and prepackaged food stores as well as 128 food companies their attitudes towards donating food.
More than nine in 10 retailers surveyed said they often discard bread, cakes and microwave food, while food companies mainly throw away grain products such as noodles and rice, as well as frozen meat and vegetables. It is also common for retailers to dump food considered "unattractive", even if such products are well ahead of their expiry dates.
"We've come across retailers throwing away cartons of cooking oil just because one bottle leaks and spills on other bottles which are undamaged," said Wong Shek-hung, an Oxfam Hong Kong programme manager.
Among all the convenience stores surveyed, only one franchised branch had donated food to charities.
Branches of non-franchised chain stores all declined to answer the questionnaire, Wong said.
Only a handful of food manufacturers currently donate food to food banks.
Oxfam is urging the government to study the feasibility of drawing up legislation regarding the liabilities of food donors and food banks. This would allow stakeholders to know what rules to follow and better protect food banks, which Oxfam says are now in a disadvantaged position when entering agreements with chain stores.
The government can draw from the American experience where legislation spells out the liability of food donors, for example food donated has to meet the requirements of relevant food labelling laws.
"Oxfam or other NGOs do not have the kind of resources that the government has to conduct a comprehensive study into how food donation should be carried out in Hong Kong," Wong said, adding that the government should put the issue on its agenda as soon as possible.
She also called on the government to relax the use of public funds, which currently restricts NGOs from purchasing food for the needy, for programmes to salvage and reuse food.