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Starbucks plans to donate 100% of unsold food in America

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NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Pastries are are on display at the newly opened Teavana "tea bar" on October 24, 2013 in New York City. Teavana, which Starbucks bought last year, was until recently a chain of nearly 300 shops that sold loose teas and other tea related items. The Seattle based Starbucks company has opened the cafe which sells specialty tea based drinks, small dishes and pastries in a modern cafe-like setting. Starbucks has said that teas drinks were among the fastest-growing drinks at Starbucks cafes. Starbucks currently plans to open more Teavana tea bars in the near future. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Starbucks wants to donate all of its leftover food to the hungry.

The company said Tuesday that it will aim to contribute “100%” of its leftover food to Feeding America — which runs a national network of food banks — from its 7,000-plus U.S. locations by this time next year.

The idea didn’t come from Starbucks’ corner offices — it came from baristas behind the counter.

“Our people just felt so badly. And this has been going on for quite some time. And so we started doing our homework– municipality by municipality,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow.

Donating surplus food is not a new idea. Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory, Yum! Brands’ KFC and Taco Bell, and Darden’s Olive Garden already do it. Even Starbucks has donated unsold pastries to a food collection service since 2010.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30% to 40% of America’s food supply is wasted.

At the same time, a significant number of Americans go hungry. According to the USDA, 48.1 million — or about one in seven — Americans lived in households in 2014 that, at some point during the year, were unable or unsure of where to get their next meal.

“I’m always trying to educate myself on the current social issues of our time,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “And one of them is the fact that there are so many people in America that do not have the next meal to eat.”

While Starbucks has tried to donate food in the past, it didn’t have a “consistent process to do so,” Starbucks spokesperson Erin Schaeffer said.

“The challenge was finding a way to add fresh or perishable food, like breakfast sandwiches and salads to the donation pick up while preserving the food’s quality throughout the process,” Schaeffer added.

Starbucks plans to have given out 5 million meals — including breakfast sandwiches, paninis and salads — by the end of 2016. The company has invested in research to determine the best way to ensure food stays safe until it is consumed.