Food safety for food-pantry donations

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, October 2, 2013

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It’s that time of year when many organizations and individuals begin gathering food items to donate to our area food pantries.

The following information from the U.S Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services may be helpful when donating, receiving and gleaning foods that would otherwise go to waste.

It is important to beware of the signs that food may be unsafe to eat. You can use the following checklist to decide whether the food is safe or unsafe to give to food pantries, cupboards and shelters.

For foods stored at room temperature, these signs may indicate that food is UNSAFE and should not be accepted or donated:

  • Cans – Cans with sharp dents, especially at or near the seam. Cans that are rusty, have swollen or bulging ends. A sign of holes, punctures or evidence of leakage. Cans that have missing labels.
  • Glass jars – Home-canned food. Jars with lids that are loose, raised or crooked. Jars that have seals broken, chipped or have cracks. Jars with signs of spoilage, discolored or cloudy. Jars that are dirty – especially under the rim – should not be donated to a food pantry.
  • Cardboard boxes – Torn or missing inner packaging in cartons that are slit or opened. Evidence of insects.
  • Plastic containers – Damaged tamper-resistant seals. Signs of spoilage including mold or an off odor.

For food stored in a refrigerator or freezer, these may be signs that indicate food is UNSAFE:

  • Refrigerator foods – Lukewarm food that is above the maximum safe refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees F. Signs that food is spoiled such as an odor, appearance or mold. Containers and covers that allow food to be contaminated. Unknown knowledge handling history.
  • Freezer food – Evidence that food has been thawed such as large ice crystals on the food or box, leaking, frozen blood at the bottom of the meat container. Unsuitable packaging that would allow food to be contaminated.
  • Any food that has been temperature-abused, by being stored in unsafe locations, in extreme heat conditions or in moisture-producing areas should not be donated. Any type of baby food or formula that has expired use-by dates should not be donated or received.

When in doubt, it is best to throw it out. Don’t rely only on the looks and smells. Foods that can make people sick and cause food poisoning often look and smell fine. Never taste food that looks suspicious.

For additional information on safe home food storage, call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension-Wise County office at 940-627-3341.

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.

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