When it comes to diverting food past its grocery store “best by” date to organizations that fight hunger, Maine ranks high. According to LawnStarter.com, Maine is among the top five states that find uses for such food, which is still perfectly edible; the “best by” label refers to quality, not safety. Given that Americans are said to discard nearly 40 million tons of food annually (scary!!), and that 40 percent of that waste happens at grocery stores and food service businesses, Maine’s ranking is especially commendable.

But even in Maine, for smaller bakeries, restaurants and coffee shops, donating just a few meals at the end of the business day to food rescue operations can be logistically challenging.

Everything sold at Gross Bakery on the corner of Exchange and Middle streets in Portland is baked fresh each day that the bakery is open. So at closing time, any brown butter-chocolate chip cookies, jalapeño cheddar biscuits or brioche custard buns that haven’t sold, delectable as they are, are potential food waste. Gross Bakery pastry chef/owner Brant Dadaleares investigated donating such day-old goodies to local food banks. But to do so, he’d be required to provide a list of every ingredient in every pastry, a serious challenge when you offer an ever-changing menu of items.

“I understand the allergy and safety concerns behind that request, but that’s a very time-consuming process for what would amount to a very small donation of food,” Dadaleares said.

Then, about 18 months ago, he was approached by a company that had developed a food-rescue app, called Too Good To Go, that targeted his exact position: a small business owner looking to curb food waste.

Founded in Copenhagen in 2016, the company built an internet platform on which small food business operators can let customers know in real time about any good food that needs to be rescued. Users who’ve downloaded the Too Good To Go app to their phones can locate participating vendors within a 1- to 20-mile radius and buy the food at a cut rate. They must pick it up before closing time.

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The sales are organized around the concept of  “Surprise Bags,” explained Allie Denburg, the company’s U.S. head of strategy and planning. Producers bag up between $16 and $18 worth of food that needs to be moved to avoid being wasted and list their availability on the app for between $4-6. Too Good to Go manages the monetary exchange and charges food producers $1.79 per bag sold via the app, paying them on a quarterly basis the remainder of the price of all bags sold. The app sends customers reminders about their purchases with directions to stores and pick-up times.

The company does not target food businesses that donate large amounts of food to soup kitchens or food banks, Denburg said.

“We think about that a lot and believe strongly that there are many roles that need to be played within the food rescue ecosystem to help address the huge food waste problem,” she said.

Too Good To Go (a mission-driven B-Corp) and the local producers are, at best, just covering their costs in this food-waste avoidance venture. But for customers, it’s a great deal. “Who doesn’t want three great pastries for five bucks?” Dadaleares asked.

Since 2016, with over 65 million app users worldwide, Too Good To Go calculates that it has prevented 169 million meals from going to waste. Since launching in the U.S. in 2020, more than 3.1 million Americans and 11,000 food businesses have joined Too Good To Go, saving over 3.3 million meals in cities from Boston to Los Angeles, it says.

Denburg says the company began marketing its app in Portland at the same time it launched in Boston because of Portland’s long-standing reputation as a sustainability-minded city. “And since Portland is also a great city for food, we see it as a great fit,” she said.

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The contents of columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige’s “Surprise bags” from her trial of the Good to Go app. Her day-old goodies came from Coffee Me Up and The Juicery. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

And in a limited capacity, it has been. Almost 5,000 meals have been diverted from the waste steam and moved to happy eaters in Portland, the company says. But in my experience, the demand is far greater than the supply. I had to refresh the app almost hourly for about two days to score a couple of surprise bags to sample for this article.

Denburg said her company shoots to get about 5 percent of the food businesses in a target city to participate in its app. According to food service inspection records kept by the city, the number of food businesses in the city is over 800. To make this app a more successful tool, the platform needs to have at least 40 producers participating in the exchange. Right now, just 11 businesses do.

What can you do to help? Mention the app to the food businesses you frequent regularly and use the app to test out places you’ve not yet tried.

Go ahead. Gild the lily. Add a dollop of Maple Whipped Cream to your Pumpkin and Day-Old Chocolate Croissant Pudding. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Pumpkin and Day-Old Chocolate Croissant Pudding with Maple Whipped Cream

In my Too Good To Go surprise bag from Coffee Me Up on Cumberland Avenue, I got more croissants than I could comfortably eat with my afternoon tea. So, I turned some of them (plus two I had in the freezer) into this pretty (and Halloween-appropriate) pudding.

Serves 6-8

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Butter, for greasing the baking dish
4 chocolate croissants
2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3 eggs
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 8-inch square or 6- by 10-inch rectangular baking dish.

Trim the ends off the croissants and cut the bodies into 1-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices in the pan, tucking the trimmings in where they fit in the gaps.

Thoroughly whisk together 1 cup of cream, the pumpkin puree, eggs, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, the spice mix and salt into a small bowl. Pour the custard over the croissant slices in the baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and slide into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the custard is set and the top of the pudding is golden brown, 4-6 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, beat the remaining 1 cup cream and sweeten it with the remaining 1 tablespoon maple syrup.

Serve the pudding warm with the whipped cream.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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