Food bank welcomes out-of-date food donations

Published: Feb. 27, 2019 at 4:35 PM CST
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We told you last week about the amount of food wasted because of confusion about dates on the packaging. Many people understand certain foods are still safe past the "use by" dates on the packaging. Food banks can use out-of-date products too.

A lot of the food that Ozarks Food Harvest receives from manufacturers is already past the date on the packaging. And contrary to some beliefs, they can take out of date food products from the community as well.

Volunteers are trained in food safety, and part of that is paying close attention to dates. "We're real careful about being sure it's within healthy, consumable time," says volunteer Don Landon.

But they don't just go by the "best if used by" date on the package, which indicates it's peak freshness. "We have up to a year, on some products, six months on some products," Landon says.

"A lot of the things we get our past the use-by or best by date," says Ozarks Food Harvest CEO Bart Brown. "We seldom get things that are past the expiration date, simply because those dates can go on for quite some time."

Ozarks Food Harvest works with food manufacturers to know a product's true expiration date. For example, dry cereal gets a 6 month extension, dry pasta made with egg- 2 years. Even eggs aren't bad by the date on the carton, but are safe to eat for 30 days.

As volunteers sort, coaches make sure food isn't wasted, but still safe.

"We do spot checks periodically so we can make sure that everything that's getting through does meet all of our standards," says Jeremy Moore, Ozarks Food Harvest volunteer coach. "But most of them are really good about it."

While many past the date donations come straight from food manufacturers, others come from community food drives. "Yes, it's perfectly acceptable, legal and desirable to donate food even if you're unsure of what the date is on the can. There are professionals at the food bank here who can make that determination and make sure that we are all safe," Brown says.

Whatever isn't kept, they try to recycle, through composting or sending to local hog farms.

"So even now when I shop in a store, I look for expiration dates," Landon says.

With such careful attention to dates, more hungry families are being fed.

Folks at Ozarks Food Harvest have a lot they can teach you about product dates and food safety. The best way to learn all of that is to volunteer.