Recommendations for storage and handling produce

Produce handling fact sheets for volunteers


Food safety is of primary concern to Second Harvest Foodbank, to your agency and to the people you serve. Here are some general rules that protect both the food you distribute and the guests you’re serving:

  • Keep Cold Foods Cold and Hot Foods Hot: Frozen and refrigerated product should be maintained in cold temperatures during transport if possible. It should also be delivered and stored as quickly as possible. Food that is exposed to the temperature danger zone between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 4 hours may become unsafe to eat. Be sure to monitor your coolers and freezers for maintaining the proper and safe temperatures too.
  • Never re-freeze thawed food: Occasionally, meats may be frozen prior to their expiration date. Be sure to tell your clients to prepare the entire product immediately after thawing. Previously frozen foods should never be thawed and then re-frozen.
  • Inspect cans for damage: Discard bulging, rusted or severely dented cans with metal touching metal, opened or leaking packages and broken seals. If you notice items with these flaws when you unpack them at your agency, do not distribute them or cook with them.
  • Circulate your inventory: Be sure to use the First In First Out (FIFO) method of stocking and distributing your inventory.
  • Keep up with Recalls: If Second Harvest Foodbank has distributed product affected by recalls to your agency, your agency will be notified. However, it is possible some products may have unknowingly been distributed through the miscellaneous food boxes, through agency shopping, store purchases, food drives or other donations. Please check your pantries, kitchens, storage areas, etc. for these products. Please also post notices so your clients are aware of these recalls if it's possible they may have them at home. You can check recall notices by visiting

Always exercise caution if you have any concerns about a product’s integrity or food safety. Remember: WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT.


Many people are confused about how long to keep a product after its date has passed. The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. Some are simple, others are complicated.

The code dates on packages are for use at the supermarket and indicate how long the package should be displayed on the shelves. These dates have very little to do with whether the food is safe to consume.

Some foods received by Second Harvest Foodbank are past date, almost always “sell by” or “use by” dates. For canned foods, this means that the food is at its peak nutritional value and peak taste at that time, after which both decline at a very slow rate. In the case of frozen food, it can be used for years past these dates as long as the food has remained frozen. It might not taste quite as good, but it’s perfectly safe to eat.

It can be an uphill battle to help people understand the food is not only safe, but is still nutritious and tastes good, given all the advertising that tries to convince us otherwise so we’ll dump the “old” food and continue to buy more. You play a critical role helping your clients understand that food from the Foodbank is not only safe to eat but also remains healthy and flavorful.

Here are some very good resources to help guide your choices and educate others: