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Donated Food Storage, Distribution, and Product Dating

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Product and expiration dates on foods are not federally regulated. Manufacturers choose the type of labeling for their product. As participants in child nutrition programs (CNPs) the varied dates can make it difficult to know which donated products to serve first. This memo seeks to clarify this confusion.

  • Utilize a first-in-first-out (FIFO) system of inventory management to ensure no donated items expire.
  • Remember to order only what you need to avoid waste, manage your inventory closely with accurate records, and ensure proper storage practices for food safety.
  • Remember that you must use the product within 6 months for CNPs (or 3 months in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations).
  • Products marked with the earliest end date (best-if-used-before, etc.) should be used first.
  • If a product does not have a best-by date, refer to your records to note when the item was received.

Product Dating

  • Best-if-used-by, best-if-used-before, sell-by, and use-by date can all be utilized as quality indicators. If you do not notice a change in food integrity (smell, color, texture), you may use the product up to the six-month mark.
  • Do not receive donated food that is already past the aforementioned labeled dates.
  • Products that have pack code, date of pack, or manufacturing date cannot be used to judge nutritional value or expiration. Instead, utilize your inventory records to ensure freshness.
  • Out-of-condition foods should not be served. Dispose of them in compliance with your State and local requirements. If a food does not appear to have anything defective but you question if you should serve it, contact your State Health Department to conduct an inspection of the food.
  • Food that requires special handling, such as dried fruits, grain products, and string cheese, need to be stored in a cool and dry place at refrigerator or freezer temperatures.

Why It Matters

Donated foods can be key in menu planning for many across the country. It is our responsibility to maintain program integrity by serving the safest food possible. By utilizing these revised instructions, we can ensure program integrity and use all resources available to provide the healthiest start to the children in our care.

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