Keep safety in mind when donating food

Food pantries also appreciate volunteers, money.

  • Published: Friday, Dec. 9, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Donating to food pantries, food banks and soup kitchens this time of year is a way to reduce food waste and aid families in need. But be mindful of what you donate and who will eventually receive the donated items.

“We need to think ahead of time about their nutritional needs and make food available to them in a way that is safe and of high quality,” said Londa Nwadike, extension food safety specialist for the University of Missouri and Kansas State University. “And that it is something that they will be happy to bring home to their families.”

She urges consumers to check expiration dates before donating food. “Those dates can be confusing, but when donating food we want to be sure the product is not past the ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ date,” Nwadike said.

Infant formula product dating is regulated at the federal level, but many states, including Missouri, do not regulate dating on other food products, Nwadike said. “So, food pantries actually can put foods out after the (expiration) date if they choose to. It’s OK from a regulatory perspective, and the food still may be safe,” she said.

Some warning signs that foods may not be safe to eat include cans that are dented or bulging. “Overall, it’s better not to provide canned foods that are dented,” Nwadike said. “Bulging is a bad sign; do not donate those. If it’s rusty, that’s another bad sign.”

Nwadike advises against donating home-preserved foods and repackaged foods. “We just don’t know what has happened from the time the food was removed from its original package and put into a smaller bag,” she said. “We don’t know how it was handled or if something was introduced to the original food.”

Nwadike suggests donating shelf-stable, nonperishable goods, which not only last longer but don’t require equipment by the pantry to handle.

“Things like produce are great, and people need to eat more fresh produce,” Nwadike said. “But if you want to donate fresh produce to your local food bank, check with them ahead of time to make sure they are willing to accept it and can give it the care it needs to get to the final user safely and in the most nutritious way possible.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion publishes a nutrition guide called MyPlate, which can be an aid in donating healthy foods. MyPlate suggests a diet of fruits, grains, vegetables and proteins.

“A can of green beans is great to donate,” Nwadike said. “Also think about a can of tuna packed in water, grains (such as brown rice or crackers) and evaporated milk, including nonfat dry milk.”

Peanut butter is a popular protein to donate, but some people are allergic to peanuts. Sunflower butter is a nonallergenic option, she said. Also consider gluten-free options.

In addition to food, Nwadike said, food banks and pantries also accept donations of time and money. “If you provide cash, they are able to buy items in bulk and plan for them.”

Nwadike has written a fact sheet titled “Donating Safe and Nutritious Food to Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens” that is available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/n1311.

By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service.

Media Contact

Londa Nwadike
816/482-5850

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