Food storage experts sometimes say to go through your stores and donate expired food to the poor. They should be grateful, right? Wait ….
Most of us are aware that food waste is an enormous problem in North America. It’s amazing how much food is wasted each year, and everything we can do to minimize that is good. Perhaps the answer is to donate your expired food to people who are desperate for something to eat?
There are two very opposite camps on this topic, and I’ll share with you where I stand.
There’s a common piece of stockpiling advice that I have seen in many places:
Regularly go through the food in your storage, your deep pantry, find anything that has expired or begun to spoil, and donate it to food banks, a needy family, etc. That way, you get rid of food you’re not eating, and you get to feel good about not throwing it in the garbage.
It’s a very common piece of advice, and food banks receive many pounds of expired food.
Here’s my take on this:
If it’s not good enough for your family to eat, why would you expect another family to eat it?
When in doubt, throw it out. Don’t pass it along to someone who just might be desperate enough to risk food poisoning.
Before I continue, let me address something that many people have brought up with me – if you have food in your home that is expired, or very close to expiry, and you feel safe eating it, then certainly do so.
I have. I’ve successfully baked with baking powder that was over a year past its expiry, for example.
What we are discussing here is the donation of this expired food to food banks, knowing that it’s spoiling.
What I am addressing is food that is not good enough for you to eat anymore.
Ick, it’s going bad. Well, they’re poor, so something’s better than nothing, right?
There have been times in the past when I have had to access food banks, and I’ve certainly known a lot of people who have done so as well. There’s nothing quite like carefully carting home a precious pound of ground beef, or a bag of oranges, only to open it and find that it’s long past rotten.
No lie – I cried. And then I considered actually eating it. And then I tossed it and cried some more.
Here’s a hint – the food banks don’t actually want *expired* food, because they won’t be able to get it to someone in need before it goes bad. There’s often a delay between when you donate the food and when they distribute it.
Again, I don’t mean food that’s close to expiry – as long as you know that it will get used or frozen quickly.
Two days ago, I bought 16 pounds of ground beef that was about to pass its safe use date. I immediately cooked and pressure canned it, happy to have saved over 50% off the regular price. If you don’t already know how, it’s worthwhile to learn how to pressure can meat for long term storage. It’s like freezer cooking, but you don’t need to thaw it first.
And just in case you’re wondering – Boiling Water Bath canning is for high acid foods like fruit and jellies, while Pressure Canning is for low acid foods.
“About to expire” or about to spoil isn’t the same as “expired” or spoiled.
But if the food was “about to expire”, you would use it instead of giving it away, right?
Spoiled food is not safe. That’s the reason why people are told to go through their food storage and remove it.
Expired food can give you food poisoning. Health Canada recommends that we dispose of expired food for just that reason. Most of us can safely relax these ‘throw it out’ rules if we know that the food has been stored in a safe, dry environment.
Please – the poor tend to be less healthy. This is in part because they have less food, less healthy food, and all too frequently, unsafe food.
Poor health makes one even more susceptible to things like food poisoning.
Do not donate expired food.
In fact, here’s a shocker – don’t donate food at all! I’ll explain why in a second.
But the waste!
Well, here’s a tip – once a month, look through your food storage for food that will expire over the next month.
Plan your menus around those items.
Use them up.
You’ll learn how to rotate your inventory.
You’ll get used to wasting less food.
Put diatomaceous earth in your grains so that they don’t get full of bugs.
Make yummy meals from leftovers, like Carrot Cake Muffins.
Oh, yea, you’ll save money, right?
And one of the coolest things that you can do with that money you’ve saved? Donate it to a food bank.
For every $1 that you donate to a food bank, they can buy – through deals with grocery stores and other organizations – between $3 and $10 worth of healthy, non-expired, nutritious food.
A food bank can buy more for $1 than you can with the same $1 – even from the same grocery store.
Save $10 by eating your stockpiled food before it expires, donate $5 of it to your nearest food bank, and they can buy up to $50 worth of food to provide to the hungry.
It’s a win-win situation, folks.