Fresh produce donation guidelines for gardeners

Community and school gardens, orchards, farms, and home gardens can be great sources of fresh local produce for food pantries when produce is given properly.

Food banks and pantries generally welcome donations of fresh produce from community gardeners.

However, it is important to check with them before making a delivery to determine if they can accept produce that day, they may not want 10 more bags of zucchini and you need to know whether they can handle fresh produce at their site.

If gardeners are concerned about liability for donating food, they should check out the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act: in 1996, this act was signed, encouraging the donation of food and grocery products to non-profit organizations that, in turn, distribute to those in need.

This bill makes it easier to donate because it protects the donor from liability when they donate fresh produce. It protects people from civil and criminal liability should the product, donated in good faith, later cause harm to the needy recipient. It also standardizes donor liability exposure and it sets a liability floor of “gross negligence” or intentional misconduct for persons who donate.

Handling produce:

  • Be sure to offer only quality produce to food pantries and discard any that isn’t fresh.
  • It’s important to handle fresh fruits and vegetables safely to minimize any risks of foodborne illness.
  • To reduce risks, don’t ‘mix produce and keep each in separate containers/bags.
  • Donate freshly-picked produce.
  • Donate produce free from mud and dirt as much as possible.
  • Select the best produce – free from holes, bugs and soft spots.
  • Donate produce with no signs of mold, spoilage or bruising.

If you have a large donation, please call the food pantry a day ahead of time. Find out delivery times and days of operation. The food pantry may have a preferred delivery day of the week and time of day – so you don’t interfere with other operations. Pick produce and plan to deliver it as soon as possible based on the information you’ve gleaned from the pantry – for best use, plan to deliver produce on the same day you pick it.

On the day you plan to deliver the produce, harvest the produce/vegetables early in the morning while they still have the coolness of the night. If they have dew, wipe them dry with paper towel. Each item should be visibly inspected for serious bruising, insect damage and ripeness. Do not donate produce that you would not buy for your own family. Produce that is overripe, has mushy spots or is seriously blemished should be added to the compost pile but not donated.

There may be some foods that can easily become over ripe or inedible. Vegetables like giant summer squash, such as zucchini which aren’t very edible when they are overly large – should not be donated. There is only so much you can do with large zucchini, such as grating it for cooked recipes, that people may not be able to use and it goes to waste and becomes a problem for the food pantry to discard. Sweet corn can become overripe quickly as well.

If you used pesticides in your garden, take the time to clean each vegetable as recommended by the pesticide manufacturer on the label before you let anyone eat it.

Package your produce in supermarket bags and take them to the pantry at the requested time. You may want to set up a weekly time schedule with the pantry for additional produce throughout the growing season.

For further information about safe handling of fresh produce, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s “Safe Handling of Raw Produce” webpage.

For a listing of organizations and food banks in your area – search the internet or check local telephone directories.

In Southeast Michigan, Michigan State University Extension has educators who provide Community Food Systems educational programming and assistance. For more information, you can contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) .

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