Guidelines for Donated Food

Non-profit and religious-based organizations receiving donated foods for re-distribution to those in need must adhere to the same food safety guidelines that grocery retailers, food manufacturers and restaurants follow. Donated food items must be carefully screened prior to distribution to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Don't always rely on look or smell. Foods that cause food poisoning may look fine and smell acceptable. Additional federal, state and local laws may apply for donated wild game meat and prepared meals.

Foods items in the following conditions are not acceptable for sale or donation:

Room Temperature Foods


  • Crushed or moderate/severe dents at the side juncture or double end seam
  • Rust pits capable of piercing can
  • Swollen or bulging ends
  • Holes, fractures or punctures
  • Evidence of leakage
  • Signs of spoilage
  • Baby food past the expiration date
  • Missing labels

Glass Jars

  • Home-canned instead of commercial
  • Raised, crooked, or loosened lid
  • Damaged tamper-resistant seal
  • Cracks or chips in the glass
  • Signs of spoilage
  • Dirt or debris under the rim
  • Baby food past the expiration date

Dry Goods/Paperboard Cartons

  • Torn or missing inner packaging in cartons that are slit or opened
  • Evidence of insects
  • Baby food past the expiration date

Plastic Containers

  • Damaged tamper-resistant seal
  • Signs of spoilage (odor or mold)
  • Baby food past the expiration date

Cold/Refrigerated Foods

  • Potentially hazardous prepared foods held above 41F refrigeration temperature
  • Signs of spoilage (odor, appearance or mold)
  • Unsuitable containers or covers that allow food to be contaminated
  • Uncertain handling "history" (unverifiable or unapproved food source)
  • Damaged tamper-resistant seals if commercially packaged

Frozen Foods

  • Evidence of thawing (ice or leakage)
  • Unsuitable packaging that allows food to be contaminated

Discarding food that does not meet the above criteria is not a waste. It helps protect the at-risk hunger community that you help feed. This information is also available on our Donated Food Guidelines Handout. Please contact the Chester County Health Department at 610-344-6225 if you have any questions.