So, you’re ready to donate food to your local food bank. That’s great! Whether you’re starting a food drive or just planning to grab a few extra items for donation while out grocery shopping, there are a couple of things you should know about what you can (and should) donate and what food banks won’t accept.
What food you CAN donate to your local food bank:
This part is pretty easy. Food banks accept dry and canned food donations. What does that mean? Basically, any food that is “shelf-stable” or nonperishable – you can keep it in your pantry and it won’t go bad. And remember, only donate food that hasn’t reached its “sell-by” date yet. Specifically, food banks often need items like:
- Peanut butter
- Canned soup
- Canned fruit
- Canned vegetables
- Canned stew
- Canned fish
- Canned beans
- Pasta (most prefer whole grain)
- Rice (most prefer brown rice)
That’s definitely not an exhaustive list but it covers a lot of what food banks and clients regularly need. Additionally, some food banks accept personal care and household items, since many families struggle to afford these items and they aren’t covered by other food assistance programs like SNAP.
If you’re still stumped about what to donate, just look in your own pantry. Families struggling with hunger often can’t afford the staples that we normally have stocked at home. So, check your pantry out and go from there. Even specialty foods like olive oil, dressings or marinades can be helpful if they don’t need to be refrigerated.
Speaking of refrigeration, that leads to…
What not to donate to a food bank
The number one rule to remember is this: if your donation is perishable, i.e. it’s something that has a limited shelf life if not refrigerated, food banks won’t accept it. But there are other categories of food that you can’t donate. We've broken it all down into this handy list:
- Items needing refrigeration: As we've already mentioned, this is the big one. Food like produce, dairy and meat can spoil easily and your local food bank may not have the refrigerator or freezer space needed to keep these items fresh. While an individual can’t donate a bunch of bananas or a frozen turkey, many food banks do work directly with farmers, retailers, restaurants and other companies to source these perishable foods for donation. And, Feeding America helps ensure its network has access to these healthy foods year-round.
- Expired food: When considering what to donate, think about what you’d be comfortable serving your family. Chances are, you don’t eat food that’s past its “use-by” or “sell-by” date, so avoid donating anything past those dates to food banks as it could be unsafe to eat.
- Leftovers: While it may be tempting to want to share the bountiful food from big meals like Thanksgiving, it’s best to keep leftovers for family. To ensure the people they serve are safe, food banks can’t accept leftovers or anything made in personal kitchens because they aren’t individually sealed and the food bank can’t verify the ingredients or preparation process.
- Food with packaging concerns: This includes food with damaged packaging such as dented or bloated cans, packaging that is already open, or even items in glass containers, which can shatter and cause food safety concerns for any other food they’re stored near. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't consider buying it new, don't donate it.
- Baked goods: Similar to leftovers, since food banks can’t confirm how your baked goods were made or their ingredients, they can’t be donated. But, food banks often have relationships with local restaurants or bakeries which will donate extra food that is properly labeled and handled to nearby pantries, soup kitchens or shelters.
Where can I donate food near me?
Now that you're in the know, take action! If you’re ready to make a donation or still have a question about what your local food bank accepts, use our food bank finder to locate the Feeding America food bank in your area. Or, if you’ve decided a food donation isn’t your thing, consider making a monetary donation instead! Food banks can put your dollars to excellent use.