Thirty years ago when I worked in my first food bank in Amarillo, we always talked about the dual nature of our mission. We have always existed to feed hungry people, and the most important part of every communication we have ever delivered is about who is hungry, about how many hungry people there are, and about the effects of hunger on individuals and on our society. In thirty years that message has never changed, never wavered, never been diluted. And it never will be as long as we exist.
We have always had another aspect to our work—one that is also very, very important. Somewhere along the way over the decades, we stopped talking about this other aspect of our work. We were certainly created in the beginning to feed hungry people. The main way we did that was—and still is—to take food that would otherwise go to waste and channel that food to hungry people. I wrote in another blog about the amount of food we waste in our country and about the environmental impact of all of that food ending up in landfills. I can’t quit thinking about the fact that a quarter of the methane gas in our atmosphere is the result of food ending up in the landfills rather than being eaten.
I’ve just recently been reminded of one very specific thing that everyone can do to fulfill both aspects of our mission: to feed hungry people and to prevent edible food from going to waste. Just about all food we see in the stores has “Sell By” dates on it. These dates are recommendations to ensure maximum freshness in the food on the shelves. There is a very pervasive myth in our country that something dire happens to the food on the day after the sell by date. In fact, most foods are perfectly edible and nutritious long past that date, and most of us have consumed many such foods in our own homes. I know I have!
USDA has developed excellent and easy to follow guidelines for knowing how long past the sell-by dates food can be consumed safely. We use these guidelines all the time in evaluating the food we rescue from our many wonderful food donor partners. We also share them with our partner agencies so that they can provide guidance to the hungry people who get the food. Here are some links that will help you access these useful guidelines for yourselves:
And if, even after you have looked at this information, you have food that you do not choose to eat in your home, please consider donating the food so that hungry people can have access to it and so that it can be saved from the landfill. We’ll be happy to take the food and evaluate it for food safety before we hand it out to very grateful neighbors who need our help. You’ll have the most convenient opportunity ever to donate food at the upcoming Stamp Out Hunger food drive. Simply put food out at your mailbox on May 11, and your letter carrier will pick it all up and it will end up back here at the food bank. Thank you so much for participating May 11!
Melody Wattenbarger is President and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank.