Community groups and social organizations often host food drives to fill local food pantry shelves this time of year. By keeping a few simple tips in mind, you can enhance the value of the food donations you make. Donated food is most helpful if it is both safe and high quality.
Make sure to check the dates on packages of foods that you donate. Here are some things to look for:
- Quality or pack dates often designated on packages by the words “Better if used by…” and a date. These dates mean that after the quality date, the food will begin to lose its flavor and may even develop an off flavor. Donate foods that are well within the quality dates marked on the package.
- Expiration dates, such as “Expires 2/15/15” or “Do not use after 7/9/16.” Look for these dates on vitamins, baking powder and cake mixes. Do not donate foods that are past their expiration date.
- Pull dates. Example: “Sell by October 16.” These dates are on perishable, refrigerated foods such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, lunch meat and packaged salad mixes. Perishable foods are usually not included in a food drive.
Besides looking for a date, be sure to check the integrity of the package. Donate only foods from unopened packages. Avoid foods with packaging that shows signs of leakage or damage. Do not donate canned items that have broken seams, large dents or rust.
Danielle Sander, FoodWIse Coordinator with Richland County UW-Extension, urges consumers to donate foods that have a stable shelf life, are full of nutrients, and easy to prepare. Good examples of foods to consider are:
- Canned vegetables, especially low- or no-salt added.
- Fruits canned in juice, unsweetened applesauce, 100% fruit juice and dried fruits.
- Canned meats and fish, such as chicken, ham or tuna in water.
- Peanut butter or other nut butters.
- Whole grain, low-sugar cereals such as plain instant oatmeal, whole grain Os, and bran flakes.
- Whole grain or enriched pasta and instant rice – either brown or enriched. Boxed noodle and rice dishes can be an easy starting point for a one-dish meal.
- Reduced sodium broth and soups.
- Salad dressings or spreads, and condiments such as ketchup or mustard lower in fat and added sugars.
Consider donating cash. Food pantries can often get more for their dollars, address shortages and needs, and focus on high quality products with some extra financial assistance.
Each year, the Richland Community Food Pantry serves approximately 8,000 area families. Not only is the food pantry critical to ensuring food security, it’s a key component in supporting the health and well-being of families served. Donations of safe, high quality foods results in a healthier community.