Donated Food Items: How to Stay Safe

One should never be ashamed to receive food donated by a storefront, restaurant, or kind neighbor, as hunger is not an acceptable outcome of a tragedy. Natural disasters often leave homes unprepared for the worst. Luckily, we see communities typically working together to provide salvaged foods for one another in these times of need. Whether you’re receiving donated food from a friend, a retailer, or have managed to save an emergency stash of your own, remember that even in times of environmental stress the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still recommends homes to follow safe consumption practices.

How to Avoid Getting Sick from Consuming Donated Food

In order to avoid sickness, there are a few simple rules to follow when consuming food in surplus.  The most obvious recommendation is that because of the lack of refrigeration, salvaged or donated foods are always non-perishable pantry items. In times of natural disasters, one should not assume that their electricity will hold out through a storm, or that gas ovens are safe to use.  Meaning, if ever given a perishable refrigerated item in a surplus, it is best to assume the item will not last and should be discarded immediately.

What Donated Food to Stay Away From

When it comes to cans, there are a few signs that should warn you to stay away. Cans that look dented or swollen may be a sign of internal bacterial growth. Cans with rust around the seams are sign of faulty packaging or leakage. For food items packaged in bags or boxes, never use a product that looks to be previously opened or re-sealed, only tightly packaged food will survive a storm and keep you safe from food-borne illnesses. Occasionally, some produce will be available in surplus, which is handy to stock up on for the direct nutrients obtained from these items. Foods like potatoes, onions, and squash will stay fresh for up to a month in a cool, dark area. Fruits such as bananas or oranges will not keep long without refrigeration, however their thick skin protects the fruit from any bacteria grown during the handling process – eat these immediately if possible. Lastly, any food that requires refrigeration probably isn’t worth having if you are unable to cook it properly or keep it without electricity.

Surplus stores or charities will often give away food products past their labeled expiration date or sell-by date. According to the FDA, these foods are typically still safe to eat while providing nutrition at a discounted or free price. The expiration label (which for canned foods can be years from the packaging date) are in place because the packaging is more likely to degrade before the food does. As long as the packaging is not altered, the food should still be safe for your home to consume. Remember the most important rule in natural disaster or emergency preparedness is to plan ahead. If you are able to accumulate surplus foods and store them before times of trouble, you and your family will have one less thing to worry about when a storm hits.

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