Leftover Swap: S.F. Health Officials Say New Food Sharing App Is a Huge Health Hazard

Flickr/Stef Noble
As we reported earlier this week, Leftover Swap -- the smartphone app that allows users to photograph their food and sell it to neighbors -- is still in beta, and probably won't launch until fall. But it's already generated a public outcry from consumers who believe this is a new, dark turn for the sharing economy, and a sign that peer-to-peer bartering has hit an all-time low.

It turns out health department officials are equally disturbed.

In San Francisco, it's illegal to sell food to the public without a permit, said Richard Lee, director of the Health Department's environmental regulatory program, and it could result in expensive citations -- potentially a couple thousand dollars, or three times the original permitting fee. It could also lead to a much stiffer crackdown than the ones on Uber and Lyft for operating without state-issued livery licenses.

Leftover food is, in fact, a huge source of food-borne illnesses and other pestilence, Lee said. And in this case, there would be no way for officials to trace the source -- they wouldn't know who originally produced the food and under what conditions. Even if it came from the cleanest, best-inspected restaurant in San Francisco, it could still have been handled by some grubby hipster with no hygiene standards. The Health Department discourages homeless people from eating food left on top of garbage cans for those exact reasons.

"Let's say everything was on the up-and-up," Lee said. "The people might not have washed their hands. They might be diseased." He added that most dishes become nasty disease vectors once they've been left out for four hours or longer.

Are you losing your appetite yet?

But LeftoverSwap CEO Dan Newman dismissed those anxieties in an e-mail, arguing that the company will provide "common sense" guidelines to users, urging them to reheat food properly and check to see if it's perishable. The site's credo, in a nutshell, is "don't give (or sell) anything thing you wouldn't eat yourself."

In other words, if you're in the market for leftovers, don't let cheapness get the better of you. Check to see how old a dish is before you buy it and always beware of the beef lo mein.

My Voice Nation Help

This seems potentially really cool and another way to address the issue of food waste. Something similar already exists though, which I've used and seems to work well. Feeding Forward has already launched its iPhone app and website for food donation. Individuals or businesses can donate their excess food, which is delivered to human service agencies (like homeless shelters) that feed those in need. Check it out: feedingforward.org


I can see how an app that lets you broadcast "We have extra pizza to share" might result in some fun dorm room parties, but in the real world, no one's going to want someone's uneaten, grubby, picked-through dinner. I'm curious how many of these "freegans" and dumpster divers wind up in the hospital with serious gastric ailments. It's got to be more than a couple.

Kr Cie
Kr Cie

how about people just eat their own leftovers? breakfast the next morning, lunch to work the next day? fancy that idea.


Not sure why SFweekly keeps pushing this story. No one cares. Terrible idea, no users, hasn't launched. I'm pretty sure ordering takeout or cooking your own food isn't that expensive. There really is no pain point they are solving for here. Move on, before you spoil* everyone's appetite to read this news source.


Who in there right mind would pick up leftover food from a stranger

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