Health officials offer advice for making food donations
With area residents opening their hearts and wallets to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, all types of donations are pouring into relief agencies. Some of these donations include food items, and that is causing concern among local health officials.
"Many…take whatever people donate and serve it," says Dr. Jean Weese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food scientist and Auburn University professor of nutrition and food science. "So in essence, we're talking about potluck meals every day for these evacuees."
Alabama law permits the donation of food to nonprofit institutions, such as churches.
"Still, just because it's legal doesn't mean it's necessarily safe, especially considering that the bulk of this food probably was prepared under conditions of unknown sanitary standards," Weese said.
Contaminated food does not always taste bad, smell bad, or look bad. Food safety should be a concern for people donating or receiving donated foods. Avoiding foodborne illness is particularly important in a disaster when facilities may be minimal or when people have compromised immune systems. A foodborne illness at an emergency shelter can make a bad situation worse.
To help avoid these problems the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service is offering some advice for those wanting to donate food and those who receive the items:
Cautions for accepting donated foods:
Cooked meats (including poultry and fish)
Raw meats should have been held no longer than two days in a home refrigerator before donation.
Cakes, pies, cookies, etc. are safe foods for home preparation and donation as long as cream and custard fillings and meringues are avoided.
Eggs and cheese
Eggs, raw or cooked, should be held under continual refrigeration. Cooked eggs should be used the same day as cooked, or boiled eggs with the shell intact used within one week (kept under refrigeration before use). Do not donate or accept cracked raw eggs. Cheese should be kept under refrigeration.
Dry goods such as cereals, flour, sugar, dry beans, etc. are safe.
Commercially prepared canned goods, including canned meats, are safe when received in containers in good condition. However, if the entire container is not used when opened, the remaining portion must be refrigerated. Do not use dented, rusted or swollen cans or home-canned vegetables.