Like any food related enterprise, your organization is responsible for storing food in a manner that will keep it safe for your clients to eat. Here are some of the key standards your food storage space should adhere to:
- Intact room with a lock to assure that the food only goes to screened individuals
- No broken windows, cracks in walls, ceilings, floor (to prevent pest contamination)
- No evidence of pest contamination
- Relatively clean
- No chemicals or cleaning supplies stored with food
- No clothing or personal items stored with food
- No food on the floor (whether it is packaged or not)
- Thermometer in each refrigerator or freezer, with a log documenting safe temperatures
- No flaking paint or other physical hazards
- Pantry or storage area should smell clean, no mold mildew or chemical smells
Spoilage is another area of concern, as some product received by food pantries will be either out- dated or close to it. While you should examine all goods carefully before they are offered to clients, a product being past its code date does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe to eat.
Though evaluating odor and appearance will always be your most important tools, here are three useful terms used in food product coding to help you judge a product’s status:
- “Sell by” or “pull” date – Refers to the last date product should be sold (seen primarily on dairy and fresh bakery products). This date allows for a reasonable length of time to use at home in an unfrozen state.
- “Best if used by date” – Often used on canned foods, frozen foods, cereals, and fried snack foods, this coding indicates the approximate date after which the product will no longer be at the highest quality level. Most products can still be used for 6-18 months after this date, depending on the item.
- “Expiration” date – Last day an item should be used before it is likely to lose flavor or quality. Frequently appears on refrigerated dough products, yeast and eggs.
Your local Food Bank may be able to provide you with additional guidelines and materials. Other good sources of food storage and handling information are the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (www.cfsan.fda.gov) and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ServSafe program (www.servsafe.com).