Donating Nutritious & Safe Foods Back »

According to Feeding America, food insecurity refers to, “the United States Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to have enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” Food insecurity may reflect a household's need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecurity exists in every county in South Dakota.

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law, The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, (“Good Samaritan Act”). It provides a national standard of liability protection for both food donors and the nonprofits accepting these donations, should the product donated later cause harm to the recipient. The Good Samaritan Act covers both food and grocery products, with the condition that the items be “apparently fit.”

Donating Food to a Food Bank or Pantry

When donating food to a food bank or pantry, it’s important that it be as safe and nutritious as possible, so that more people have access to safe and healthy food. Try to donate foods that would fill a healthy and safe plate based on MyPlate recommendations.

The list below shows suggested nutritious foods to donate to food banks and food pantries.

Food Groups & Suggested Non-Perishable Items

  • Fruit
    Canned in light syrup or juice; dried: Peaches, fruit cocktail, oranges, pears, applesauce, raisins, pineapple, 100% fruit juice
  • Vegetables
    Low sodium canned: Corn, peas, carrots, beets, green beans, mixed vegetables, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and tomato sauces, soup
  • Grains
    Healthful Grains: Whole-grain crackers, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain breakfast cereal, whole wheat flour, oatmeal, granola bars, cornmeal
  • Protein
    Protein Foods: Canned tuna or salmon (water packed), canned or dried beans, canned chicken, nuts, nut butters
  • Dairy
    Nonfat dry milk, evaporated milk, shelf-stable milk

The following recommendations are provided to ensure that safe foods are donated to food banks or pantries.

  • Do not donate food that is past its “use by”, “best by,” or “sell by” date.
  • Do not donate canned food items that have broken seams or large dents.
  • Donate only foods from unopened packages with the label still intact.
  • Avoid donating foods with packaging that shows signs of leakage or damage.
  • Do not donate home-canned items due to the risk of botulism with improperly canned foods.
  • Food pantries should only accept food baked at a licensed establishment.
  • Cash donations are useful to food banks and food pantries as they can generally buy food in bulk much more inexpensive than consumers.

Donating Excess Produce from Your Garden

Have you ever wondered what to do with extra garden produce? Have you ever given produce to friends and neighbors and still had plenty to spare? Maybe you’ve considered planting an extra row for a local pantry? Food banks and pantries generally welcome donations of fresh produce from community gardeners, but it’s important to call ahead before making a delivery to find out what kinds of vegetables would be useful and the best times to donate. Follow these steps when planning to donate produce:

  • Only offer good quality, freshly picked produce to food pantries.
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water before handling produce.
  • Handle produce gently to prevent bruises, nicks, and cuts, which can all cause produce to spoil faster.
  • Don’t mix product types. Use clean, food-grade containers or bags to store and transport produce.
  • Prior to donating the produce, brush off as much dirt as possible.
  • For many types of produce, it is best not to wash them before donating, because the extra moisture can promote spoilage.
  • Choose produce that has no sign of mold, spoilage, bruising, or insects. If you wouldn’t buy it, you should toss it!

Additional Information

Check out the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service’s A Food Pantry Wish List. This handout includes a helpful chart to help you choose healthy foods to donate to food pantries. For more in depth information about the legalities of food donations, see the Legal Guide to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.


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