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What is ‘surplus food’? Is it edible? 

Surplus food can be described as food which is fit for human consumption, but has marginal or no commercial value or the sale of which is restricted by its date label. This food, which may ultimately go to waste, is generated within the grocery retail supply chain for a number of reasons, including: mislabelling; product or packaging damage; incorrect packaging; shelf life date expiration and over-ordering or over supply. (Definition from WRAP)

How much food waste is out there?

In the UK, an estimated 20 million tonnes of food is wasted each year at all levels from plough to plate whilst 4 million people are affected by food poverty. At least 400,000 tonnes of this is thrown away at retail level. At FoodCycle we’re doing something about this by making use of perfectly edible food to create nutritious three-course meals for those who need it. To find out more food waste facts visit Love Food Hate Waste and Feeding the 5000.

How do you source your food? 

FoodCycle works with supermarkets, farmers markets and other retailers to source perfectly edible surplus food in a safe and responsible way. We only reclaim fresh fruit and veg and we purchase extra ingredients such as dried foods to make our meals as balanced and nutritious as possible. To find out more about supermarkets and suppliers we work with, visit our Partners page.

Why don’t you serve meat and fish?

FoodCycle only serves meat-free food for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the practical and legal hurdles to obtaining and serving meat and fish are substantial, and we couldn’t access it in the safe and easy way we can fruit and veg. But more importantly, we want our meals to be as healthy and nutritious as possible, and we hope to promote healthy eating by showing people that meat-free food can be just as (if not more!) delicious than meals with meat and fish. By serving meat-free food, it also means that our meals are accessible to people of all cultures and religions.

How are you different from FareShare?

FoodCycle is one of two national charities that intercept supermarket waste in the UK, the other being FareShare.  Together we offer a more comprehensive solution to food waste and food poverty in the UK, by reclaiming surplus food at multiple stages of the supply chain and distributing it in different ways. FoodCycle collects the surplus food that could not be sold from local retail outlets and cooks these ingredients into healthy meals. By offering communal dining experiences and involving local volunteers, we work directly to address social isolation and promote community cohesion. FoodCycle sits with FareShare on the Mayor of London’s Food Waste Strategy Board and we work closely together on policy and campaigning to reduce food waste and get more surplus food donated to charities rather than sent to landfill.

How do you know you’re meeting a need?

FoodCycle works in the most deprived communities to support vulnerable groups at risk from food poverty and social isolation including older people, homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers, people affected by mental ill health and people on low incomes. All our projects work with a community partner that addresses an identifiable need within their community and offers local expertise on the problems their community faces. We collect qualitative and quantitative information to ensure all our projects are effective, impactful, and reaching people who are most at risk from food poverty and social isolation in the community.

What is ‘food poverty’?

Food poverty can be defined as the inability to obtain healthy affordable food.  This may be because people lack shops in their area or have trouble reaching them.  Other factors influencing food access are the availability of a range of healthy goods in local shops, income, transport, fear of crime, knowledge about what constitutes a healthy diet, and the skills to create healthy meals.

Due to this complex mix of factors, people on low incomes have the lowest intakes of fruit and vegetables and are far more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and coronary heart disease.  Food poverty can also be about an overabundance of “junk” food as well as a lack of healthy food. (Definition from Sustain)

Is FoodCycle a food bank?

FoodCycle works in a different way from a food bank: addressing food poverty by providing a hot, nutritious three-course meal rather than items for people to take home. By providing a sit-down meal in a warm and welcoming atmosphere, we work to reduce social isolation – as people who often feel excluded get the chance to mix with others and feel a valued part of their community. Volunteers sit down and eat with guests and have a chat, and meals are served with warmth and dignity. We’ve also found that our fresh, healthy meals have had a positive impact in terms of behaviour change: 67% of FoodCycle service users eating more fruit and veg at home after coming to one of our meals.

Can young people volunteer with FoodCycle?

For reasons of health and safety, insurance and child welfare, we cannot have volunteers at Hubs who are under the age of 18, both to protect our volunteers and the vulnerable people we serve. 

However, eating at FoodCycle is for everyone and children are welcome to attend a FoodCycle meal provided they are accompanied with a responsible adult. By coming along and sitting at tables, eating and conversing with all our different guests, young people will gain a greater understanding of the whole range of different people that we have in our communities. 

There are many brilliant charities and organisations who provide volunteering opportunities for young people so we encourage you to look at your local volunteering centre for ideas.


If there’s anything you’d like to see added to this page, please email us at [email protected].


For more information, please download our FoodCycle factsheet

Help us to make sure no good food is wasted. Donate your time, food or money. Thank you!