EAST MANATEE -- The Walmart on State Road 64 chose to throw out $18,000 worth of food rather than donate it Wednesday morning after a lightning strike Tuesday night caused a power outage.
Brian Nick, a spokesman for Walmart, said employees decided the refrigerated foods, including meats, cheese and other dairy products, were unsafe to serve and followed store guidelines to throw it out rather than donate it to charitable organizations.
The power outage was for a "decent amount of time," according to Nick, though he said he didn't know the exact time the store was struck or how long the outage lasted.
"The company takes the safety of its community very seriously," Nick said.
Brian Schultz, the kitchen manager at the Salvation Army, said he was troubled Walmart would throw away food rather than donate it and let charitable organizations sort through what is or isn't fit for consumption.
"This is just disheartening when you're seeing so many people going without food," Schultz said.
Schultz said it's especially surprising because Walmart would face no liability for spoiled food under Florida's Good Samaritan Donation Act.
"If we take anything, their liability no longer exists," Schultz said. "It's up to us to make sure the food is up to code."
The Florida law states a donor of any food to a charitable or nonprofit organization is not subject to any civil or criminal penalties as a result of the condition of the food, unless the injury is caused by the "gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct of the donor."
But Nick said Walmart didn't want to pass off food that might be unsafe, regardless of liability.
"We have to make sure we're directly responsible for our own food," Nick said. "We don't pass the buck."
Nikki Breading said she arrived at Walmart Wednesday morning to do some personal shopping.
She was looking for a pizza, but the area with the pizzas was covered in cardboard and plastic wrap.
She said she asked an employee behind a price check counter if there were any in the back, and he informed her all the refrigerated food was being thrown out.
Disturbed they would just throw out all that food, Breading said she went over to customer service to ask if they would donate it.
"They told me, 'No, we're not allowed to donate it, it has to go in the trash,'" Breading said.
Kristen Theisen, chief development officer of the Food Bank of Manatee, said they have an ongoing donation relationship with Walmart, which hadn't reached out to them after the lightning strike.
After hearing about the issue, Theisen said Cindy Sloan, director of the Food Bank of Manatee, spoke to Walmart officials who told her the food had not been properly refrigerated.
"They told her they didn't feel comfortable donating it," Theisen said.
Walmart regularly donates to the food bank three times a week, according to Nick.