How Do You Know it’s Safe to Eat? Food Safety Guidelines

How do you know whether food that is past the  date on a label is safe to eat? Some people throw out all food past the date on the package. Grocers discard tons of food that is near expiration. But what do those dates actually mean? Food manufacturers date food according to optimum quality, not food safety. Most items are perfectly fine to eat well after the package date. But how can you tell?

Manufacturers list
Manufacturers list “Best Use By” dates to indicate best quality not food safety.

Community Food Rescue’s new, Food Safety Information brochure, gives you practical tips on just what package dates mean so you can tell the difference between, “packed on,” “sell by,” and “use by” dating. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if food is not opened and is properly stored, it is safe to consume past dates that use any of these terms.

The free brochure gives examples of the actual shelf life of the most common foods after the date stamped on the package. It also offers tips and photos on food safety, such as distinguishing the difference between a can that is slightly dented (safe!) and one that is extremely dented on seals or lids (not safe!). There are also safe food handling tips about storage, thawing, and cooking.

CFR's new Food Safety Information brochures offer concise tips on how to tell when food is safe to eat and on thawing, cooking, storing food in seven languages
CFR’s new Food Safety Information brochure offers concise tips on how to tell when food is safe to eat and on thawing, cooking, and storing food. Available from CFR in seven languages.

The brochure is especially helpful to our hunger relief organizations’ clients, who may receive rescued food.

The brochure is available in English, Spanish, French, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, and Vietnamese. Hunger relief organizations are welcome to customize these brochures with their contact information and then print and distribute them to their clients. Contact Jenna Umbriac to receive pdfs of these brochures customized with your organization’s contact information. For even more information about the actual shelf life of thousands of products, the website Still Tasty is a great reference guide.

Food Safety

Handling and transporting food safely between food donor, volunteer food runner, and recipient organization is an integral part of CFR aimed at ensuring that no one gets sick. CFR has established a strict protocol for safe food handling and transportation. These practices also reassure consumers that rescued food is safe to eat. Safe food handling starts with CFR Food Safety Guidelines, approved by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that inspects and licenses all food businesses.

To participate in Community Food Rescue, food donors must be Montgomery County licensed food businesses. CFR food recipient organizations are given a free tool kit. Each kit include an insulated cooler bag, thermometer, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves, CFR food donation log sheets, and a temperature control quick reference guide.

Insulated bag keeps foods at the correct temperature during a food run. Instructions on the top of the bag, reminds food runners how to handle and transport food safely.
Insulated bag keeps foods at the correct temperature during a food run. Instructions on the top of the bag, reminds food runners how to handle and transport food safely.

CFR volunteer food runners are asked to review safe food handling and transportation practices and must pass a short online quiz. CFR offers free, two-hour safe food handling trainings around the county. Jenna Umbriac, Director of Nutrition Education at Manna Food Center, who co-leads the training sessions, stresses that, “the trainings are fun, practical, and hands-on. Attendees will not only find the information important to CFR food runners, but useful for handling food safely at home.” Teresa Johnson, a chef at Family Services Inc. who co-leads the trainings is a ServSafe® certified instructor.

For details and to sign up for one of the free training sessions this fall, contact Cheryl Kollin. For those who want to be volunteer food runners but who won’t be able to attend the class, we’ll be unveiling our new safe food handling training video later this summer.

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