What to do with surplus food from restaurants, cafes and bars

Published on 23 March 2020

Photo: OzHarvest on the go (credit: Nikki To)

Finding a good home for suddenly surplus food and produce.

Today many food businesses find themselves in a situation where they have fresh food and produce in their coolrooms but limited means to put it into the hands of customers. No one wants any of this food to go to waste, and with that in mind we’ve put together a short list of options that may help.

Sell the food yourself

In the first instance, if you can pivot to a takeaway model and would like to sell the food you’re producing, share your menu and opening hours on Instagram, and tag us and other organisations and individuals (including journalists Dani Valent and Sofia Levin, and outlets such as Good Food and Broadsheet) so we can share the information in turn with our own audiences.

What you’re selling can of course range from freshly cooked food to packaged components of meals (pasta and noodles, say, or stocks and sauces) to basics such as flour and eggs.

Sell the food via another local business

Local supermarkets and food stores, butchers, fishmongers, grocers and providores can continue to trade, and several around Melbourne have already partnered with local restaurants to sell their food, as Longrain has with Boccaccio Cellars in Balwyn.

Sell the food via Yume

Yume accepts listings of surplus fresh, frozen and dry food, and matches it with the 2,500 business and bulk buyers on its platform. “The key thing is that we’d like people see a return on their stock,” says founder Katy Barfield. “We have large businesses that are actively looking for food right now.” Anything that’s not sold can be donated to a food rescue organisation.

Donate to a food-rescue organisation or charity

“We can collect surplus food and have good capacity to do so,” says OzHarvest Victoria State Manager, Bernardo Tobias. “We can collect prepped food, cooked meals, fresh produce, frozen or dry goods. We don’t accept shellfish or cooked rice.” (This is for Melbourne specifically; visit the OzHarvest site for donation details if you're elsewhere in Australia.)

Bernardo says calling 03 9999 5070 is best in the first instance. “The phone lines have been super-busy, so if you can’t get through the first time send an email to Bernardo or Christine.”

Free to Feed, meanwhile, is a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Thornbury which distributes meals, prepped food and produce to its participants, and welcomes donations. Contact Gabriel De Melo Freire for details.

Other charitable organisations are unable to accept prepped food, but fresh, frozen and dry goods are all welcome at SecondBite. Email them direct today via Janine Holloway and they’ll get back you as soon as they can to arrange collection or delivery.

The details they’ll require are:

-       The name of your venue

-       Address

-       Contact details

-       What you have to donate

-       Volume of fresh produce (kg/cartons)

-       Volume of frozen produce (kg/cartons)

-       Best-before dates

-       When you need collection (Can you deliver?)


The Living Room, a a free primary health service for people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness on Hosier Lane in the Melbourne CBD. It provides lunch packs to its visitors, along with some groceries.  If you have fresh or packaged food that you think could help (anything that could go straight into a lunch pack would be especially helpful), please email Jill at Youth Projects.

Foodbank also ordinarily accepts donations of this kind but is for the present moment only taking food from its existing partners in business and grocery. (It does, however, need volunteer staff.)

Be aware that many food-rescue organisations don’t currently have capacity to collect these goods themselves right now, so delivery (in some cases) is a plus, but please check before visiting their facilities. Packaging, sealing and labelling the food as best you can is more important than ever, as is maintaining best-practice cold-chain management and hygiene. (See the Australia COVID-19 Informal Mutual Aid Database for basic safety protocols.)

If you have further suggestions or resources, please email us.