The holiday season is an excellent time to give back to the community by donating to local food drives. With that in mind, here are a few important things to remember to be sure your donation is doing the most good this season.
Look for quality, pull and expiration dates
Some labels read, “Better if used by” and a date. These mean that the food product will begin to lose its flavor after that date. These kinds of labels are often found on cold cereals, peanut butter, packaged mixes and canned fruits or vegetables. Donate foods that are well within the quality date, as the food may develop a bad taste if consumed after the date.
Refrigerated items, such as eggs, salad mixes, milk, yogurt and cottage cheese have a “pull by” date, in which the food product is not sold after that date. Most food pantries do not accept perishable food items, with the exception of some salad mixes. Check with your local pantry before making a donation. Finally, do not donate foods that have passed their expiration date.
Check product packaging
Only donate foods in unopened packages. This ensures the product has not been contaminated or damaged, such as cans with broken seams or large dents. Home-canned items are typically not accepted. A good rule to follow when deciding to donate a food item is whether you would feed it to your family.
Donate nutritious foods
Some food products may be easy to donate but are not healthy, such as sugary cereals, salty noodle mixes and fruit-flavored beverages. These products are also difficult to make into nutritious meals. Instead, food donations should have a long shelf life and be full of nutrients. Examples of such products include canned vegetables without added salt, canned meats and fish, peanut butter, whole-grain cereals, low-sodium soup broth and low-fat salad dressings or condiments.
Food pantries also welcome cash donations, which allow them to purchase foods to fill specific shortages. To learn more, visit the Safe and Healthy Food Pantries Project website.