Leftover food

Liftovers cuts waste and helps feed thousands of Torontonians in need

Think about the last event you attended. Whether a catered corporate luncheon, a wedding or a family barbecue, odds are there were probably a huge table of leftovers and food waste once the festivities ended.

Canadians love their food. Unfortunately, we also waste a lot of it.

According to the City of Toronto, more than “$31 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada each year. About 275 kg of food (valued at $1,500) is wasted by the average single-family household in Toronto – that’s almost one in four purchases.”

Each kilogram of wasted food has a trickle-down effect, of course.

Leftover food

Trashed food results in more resources being dedicated to agriculture, and food production accounts for more than 70 per cent of the world’s water use, not to mention an increase in greenhouse gases due to food decomposition in landfill sites and greater emissions to import or transport food. Needless to say, waste is a major problem that we all need to work to tackle.

As a high-volume caterer, Kiss the Cook Catering works hard to ensure that our team wastes as little food as possible. Part of that comes down to logistics—namely, delivering food to client sites in a timely manner and at optimal temperatures to avoid spoilage and ensure great taste and freshness. Another is to use our proprietary models and systems to accurately project food consumption based on the size and nature of an event.

But despite having refined these processes over the years, events inevitably produce excess food that we can’t always donate in a timely fashion.

food being served in soup kitchen

That was until two bright social entrepreneurs, Trisha Islam and Shiva Mazrouei, came up with the idea to create a non-profit organization tasked with collecting and redistributing food from events while still fresh and edible, and in compliance with city of Toronto health regulations. Although organizations such as Second Harvest do a great job of picking up excess food and donating it to local charities, they have minimum pick-up requirement that leave leftovers from smaller events destined for the waste bin.

In February, Islam and Mazrouei founded Liftovers, an organization that we’ve quickly come to love—and have already worked with extensively—dedicated to fulfilling that waste-minimization gap in the marketplace. To maximize the organization’s impact, the clever 25-year-olds have partnered with catering firms such as Kiss the Cook Catering and event planners to proactively divert much of the food that would otherwise be wasted after smaller-scale events. They’ve also targeted private corporations that often pitch food after staff or client luncheons.


“We would go to different conferences or events, and we would see food there and would sometimes take leftovers ourselves and give it to people, just so it didn’t go to waste,” Islam says of the founders’ inspiration for starting Liftovers. “We wanted to fulfill a need by providing this service.”

What we appreciate most is that with a team of only seven volunteers, Liftovers is creating a hugely positive impact across our community: organizations minimize their waste, charities such as homeless shelters, hostels and other organizations that work with clients who need healthy, nutritious food have access to great-tasting fare, and the city benefits because fewer of its vulnerable citizens are going to bed hungry each night. What’s not to like?


Here’s just one example of Liftovers in action: During the ice storm that swept across the GTA in April, Kiss the Cook had prepared a catered meal for more than 300 people that was cancelled due to the abysmal weather conditions. That meant a lot of food that was destined for the dumpster. But on short notice, Liftovers jumped into action, braved the storm and managed to redistribute our food to those in need.

Without their help, some delicious food (if we do say so, ourselves) would have gone to waste.

“We don’t pick up food that we wouldn’t eat,” Islam stresses. “That’s why we target catered events, so we know the food has been handled to a certain standard, and when we pick it up, we know it’s packaged.”

Here’s how the service works: a caterer or event organizer visits the Liftovers website  at least 24 hours prior to their event. They submit an address for pick-up, along with details about the kind of food to be served, the anticipated amount of leftovers, along with a few other key details such as when the food will be served and how it will be packaged. To ensure freshness and safety, Liftovers only accepts food prepared and handled by licensed caterers. As such, the food must be untouched and should only have been unrefrigerated for a maximum of two hours to meet the organization’s strict pick-up criteria.

With that information in hand, they send a volunteer to collect the delicious leftovers—what they call a ‘lift’—but only after working to locate an organization in the immediate area that has proper food storage and handling facilities to accept and redistribute the food through their own meal program. That policy not only helps to benefit communities in the immediate vicinity, but is another safeguard to guarantee food freshness.


Needless to say, client response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. According to Islam, the organization has completed approximately 30 lifts already, while establishing key industry relationships to help drive repeat business. The duo—who both work full-time jobs in addition to their work with the organization—are now planning to incorporate Liftovers as a non-profit and develop a sustainable plan to continue its growth.

“The quantity of food we’ve been lifting has been reassuring for us,” Mazrouei says. The goal is to eventually build Liftovers to the point where it can accept on-demand requests for food collection.

“I don’t think we were prepared for the overwhelmingly positive response,” Islam points out. “Every time we do a lift it feels so rewarding. People have been so supportive every step of the way. Even though we’re still figuring out the model, what keeps is going is the benefit the service provides.”

“We know this city is full of good people who want to do good,” Mazrouei adds. “The clients who reach out to us also feel that reward and appreciate the ability to give back to their communities. It’s been great all around.”

Fia Pagnello

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