Boost the Value of Your Food Drive DonationsCommunity 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.
It’s important to remember that 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.
--Expiration dates include information such as "Expires 2/15/13" or "Do not use after 7/9/13." Look for these dates on vitamins, yeast, baking powder and cake mixes. Do not donate foods that are past their expiration date.
--Pull dates. Example: "Sell by May 16.” Look for these dates on perishable, refrigerated foods such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream, eggs, lunchmeat and packaged salad mixes. Perishable foods, with the exception of garden produce, are usually not included in a food drive. If they are, choose foods that are well within the pull date.
Besides looking for a date, be sure to check the integrity of the package. To ensure that the food has not been contaminated, donate only foods from unopened packages. Avoid foods with packaging that shows signs of leakage or damage. Ingham urges consumers not to donate canned items that have broken seams or large dents. Your donation only makes a difference in the life of someone in need if the product donated is within the date marked and of good quality. If you question the integrity of the product or wouldn’t feed it to your family, it is probably best not to donate it.
Are home-canned foods, fresh eggs or produce safe to donate? Food pantries often welcome donations of fresh produce. However, home-canned foods, meat or eggs that have not been handled by licensed food processors should not be donated.
Avoid donating sugary cereals, salty noodle mixes, and fruit-flavored beverages that might be easy to donate, but difficult for families to include in nutritious meals. Instead, 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 those without added salt.
--Fruits canned in juice, unsweetened applesauce, 100-percent fruit juice and dried fruit such as raisins or craisins.
--Canned meats and fish, such as chicken, ham, beef, tuna and salmon. Do not donate meat canned at home.
--Peanuts and peanut butter.
--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.
--Whole grain crackers (especially reduced-sodium) and popcorn.
--Spaghetti sauce, salsa and canned beans, including baked beans.
--Reduced-sodium broth and soups.
--Low-fat salad dressings or spreads, and condiments such as ketchup or mustard.
--Baby food is a very welcome donation. Just be sure to donate well within the date marked on the containers.
Sources: Barb Ingham, UW-Extension Food Safety Specialist and Amber Canto, Poverty and Food Security Specialist,UWisconsin-Extension