Bulletin #4302, Food Safety for Food-Pantry Donations

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Food for ME: Citizen Action for Community Food Recovery

Maine Harvest for Hunger volunteers distribute fresh produce to hungry Mainers

Originally prepared by Nellie Hedstrom, Extension nutrition specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Revised and updated by Kate Yerxa, Extension educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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Donating, recovering, and gleaning foods that would otherwise go to waste helps feed hungry Mainers. When recovering food, consider both safety and quality. Beware of the signs that food may be unsafe to eat. Use the following checklist to decide whether foods are unsafe to give to food pantries, cupboards, and shelters.

Foods Stored at Room Temperature

These signs may indicate that food is UNSAFE:


  • Too crushed to stack on shelves or open with a manual can opener
  • Crushed immediately under the end (double) seam
  • Moderate/severe dents where the side and end (double) seams meet
  • Rust pits severe enough to make a hole in the can
  • Swollen or bulging ends
  • Holes, fractures, or punctures
  • Evidence of leakage
  • Signs of spoilage (spurting, unusual odor or appearance) when opened
  • Baby food or infant formula past the expiration date
  • Missing label

Glass Jars

  • Home-canned instead of commercially canned
  • Raised, crooked, or loosened lid
  • Damaged tamper-resistant seal
  • Cracks or chips
  • Signs of spoilage (discolored food; cloudy liquid)
  • Dirt under the rim
  • Baby food past the expiration date

Cardboard Boxes

  • Torn or missing inner packaging in cartons that are slit or opened
  • Evidence of insects
  • Baby food past the expiration date

Plastic Containers

  • Damaged tamper-resistant seals
  • Signs of spoilage (mold, off odor)
  • Baby food or infant formula past the expiration date

Foods Stored in Refrigerator or Freezer

These signs may indicate that food is UNSAFE:

Refrigerator Foods

  • Lukewarm food (above the maximum safe refrigerator temperature of 40°F)
  • Signs of spoilage (unusual odor or appearance, mold)
  • Unsuitable containers and/or covers that allow food to be contaminated
  • Uncertain handling history

Freezer Foods

  • Evidence of thawing (ice on the food or leaking)
  • Unsuitable packaging that allows food to be contaminated

When in doubt, throw it out! Don’t rely solely on look or smell. Foods that cause food poisoning may look fine and smell okay. Never taste suspicious foods!

How you can help recover food

To get involved in community food recovery, use the ideas in the Food for ME fact sheets, call the National Hunger Hotline at 800.453.2648 (800.GLEAN.IT) or 866.348.6479 (866.3.HUNGRY), or visit WhyHunger.

Food Recovery Resources

Reproduced and adapted with permission from the “Donated Food Checklist,” Food Safety References, Indiana’s Food for the Hungry (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University). http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/safefood/foodsafety/donatedchecklist.html

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 1998, 2011

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