Reducing Food Waste in my Community Rotation

By Dietetic Intern: Cameron Carter

Whenever you see a canned item or a box of cereal with a date that has passed, what do you do? Do you throw it away because it is expired? Do you put it back in the pantry and let the next person deal with it? Are you confused about what to do? As part of my dietetic internship community rotation at Manna Food, I got the opportunity to provide an in-service to educate their volunteers and answer these questions. 

Manna Food Center is a non-profit organization in Montgomery County, Maryland. They provide services to fight food insecurity in the county. As an intern, I got the opportunity to help in many areas. These included handing out food packages at one of their food drop-off locations, working in the grocery store with volunteers, and working in the warehouse where I prepared special food boxes for participants with dietary restrictions. The warehouse was filled with donations that needed to be sorted and this was the perfect opportunity to educate the volunteers on food dating. 

I covered 3 facts about food dating in the in-service. I chose food dating to reduce food waste for Manna and overview of the wording volunteers typically see in the warehouse. “Best if used by/ before”, “Freeze-by”, and “Sell-By” are the three types of verbiage I covered. I started off by asking the volunteers, “Who regulates food dating in the USA?” I got an abundance of answers, but they were shocked to find out that food dates are not regulated. 

When discussing “Best if used by/ before”, I reviewed that the date on the item is an indicator of flavor or quality and that it is okay to keep food if the date has passed and there are no signs of spoilage. Manna did a great job at providing USDA guidelines on how long they can keep foods in the warehouse past their date. I told volunteers to focus more on the USDA guideline dates and the signs of spoilage before throwing out an item. 

 When it comes to “freeze-by” dates, we discussed that “these dates indicate when an item should be frozen to maintain peak quality. Furthermore, I reviewed that if items have icicles or show signs of improper temperature storage, they should be thrown away. 

Lastly, I covered the “Sell-By” dates which indicate how long to keep a product on shelves for inventory management. If a food is past the “sell-by” date it is okay to eat. 

Providing education on food dating was a cool opportunity. I got the chance to practice public speaking as well as become a catalyst for reducing food waste. The major takeaway that the volunteers had was that these types of package dates are more about quality and less about food safety. Except for baby formula, canned foods and goods can be eaten past the date if no signs of spoilage are present. You do not have to throw away “expired” canned goods! This in-service gave me the opportunity to educate and be a part of Manna’s efforts to reduce food waste. 

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