Holiday giving, and food safety concerns

How to make sure your gift is safe to eat.

It is already mid-November and that means the holidays are fast approaching. For many, this time of year is associated with giving and being charitable, and many organizations are out asking for donations. One great way to give back to the community is by donating food for those in need. Although any donation is helpful, Michigan State University Extension recommends using the following guidelines to help ensure you are giving safe, healthy food this season:

  • Avoid donating dented canned-goods. Although not all dented cans spell trouble, any deformation in a can could potentially allow bacteria or mold inside, rendering the food useless.
  • Avoid donating expired products. Expiration dates are mostly an indicator of quality set forth by the manufacturer, however, many food pantries and donation sites will discard products that are outdated. Although the food is most likely safe to eat, donating expired food may lead to greater food waste.
  • Never donate perishable foods. Some food pantries are now starting to accept, and have the storage capability for perishable foods (those that need to be refrigerated), but for the most part, it’s not a good idea to donate such items. Make sure to always get shelf-stable items, unless the charitable organization specifies otherwise.
  • Consider the health attributes of your donation. Is a box of mac and cheese or a can of cream of chicken soup really the best option? Consider giving low-sodium canned goods, or packaged foods made from whole grains. Your donation might even influence the recipient to continue buying healthier options later on.
  • Never donate home-canned goods. You may be thinking that your home-made jam or salsa is both tastier than store-bought, and cheaper to provide, but home-canned goods are not a good idea as food donations, and are not allowed by most organizations. The quality and safety of home-canned products cannot be guaranteed, and therefor can’t be distributed.
  • Think variety. The most commonly donated items are canned tuna, canned green beans and canned pineapple, but there are hundreds of other products out there to choose from. Consider canned potatoes or chicken, or instant oatmeal. Sliced bread is also known to be an item that is highly wanted by those in need.

Giving the gift of food is an excellent way to help those in need this holiday season. Don’t forget, your donation of food is welcome at your local food pantry year-round as well. Following the above tips will help make sure your gift is safe and healthy for the families it’s helping, and your extra thought and care will be greatly appreciated.

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