— By KATHY SMITH
Donating, receiving and gleaning foods that would otherwise go to waste helps feed the hungry. Beware of the signs that food may be unsafe to eat. You can use the following checklist to decide whether the food is safe or unsafe to give to food pantries, cupboards and shelters.
Foods stored at room temperature
These signs may indicate that food is unsafe and should not be accepted or donated:
• Cans with sharp dents, especially at or near the seam. Cans that are rusty and have swollen or bulging ends. Cans with signs of hole punctures or evidence of leakage. Cans that have missing labels.
• Home canned food jars with lids that are loose, raised or crooked. Jars that have seals broken, chipped or have cracks. Jars with signs of spoilage, discolored or cloudy. Jars that are dirty and especially under the rim should not be donated to a food pantry.
• Cardboard boxes with torn or missing inner packaging and cartons that are slit or opened. Evidence of insects.
• Plastic containers that have damaged tamper-resistant seals. Signs of spoilage including mold or an off odor.
Food stored in fridge or freezer
These may be signs that indicate food is unsafe:
• Refrigerator foods lukewarm above the maximum safe refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees F. Signs that food is spoiled such as an odor, appearance or mold. Containers and covers that allow food to be contaminated. Unknown knowledge handling history.
• Evidence that freezer food has been thawed such as large ice crystals on the food or box, leaking, frozen blood at the bottom of the meat container. Unsuitable packaging that would allow food to be contaminated.
• Any freezer food that has been temperature-abused by being stored in unsafe locations, in extreme heat conditions or in moisture producing areas should not be donated.
• Any type of baby food or formula that has expired use by dates should not be donated or received.
When in doubt, it is best to throw it out! Don’t rely only on the looks and smells. Foods that can make people sick and cause food poisoning often look and smell fine. Never taste food that looks suspicious.
If it is food that you would not feel is safe to eat or serve your family, don’t give it away.
Food Recovery Sources: Feeding America; U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services; Why Hunger, University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Purdue University.