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Home > Frequently Asked Questions > Food Quality FAQs
Food Quality FAQs
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What happens if I receive food that is of questionable or poor quality?

That depends on both how much food is affected and the type of issue that is presenting. Sometimes food may not necessarily look pleasing, but is otherwise fine (no signs of mold, bruising, decay, or pest infestations). If this is the case, it's entirely possible that NTFB is already aware of the potential for problems based on the appearance of the product. Please be advised that a significant portion of specific product groups (like produce) is usually donated product; because of this, it can vary in quality. In the event that you receive product that does have signs mold, bruising, decay, or pest infestations, the amount of product affected will determine the next steps. If the amount of food in question is less than or equal to 20% of the full amount of that particular product that you received, this product is considered acceptable. Your agency will need to dispose of any affected product and a credit will not be issued. If the amount of food in question is greater than 20% of the full amount of that particular item, please submit a ticket as soon as possible and be sure to include photographs of the items in question. Photographs will help us in our investigation as to what happened and how to prevent it in the future. 


If food that has been deemed fit for consumption and is returned or rejected by an agency, that product will be subject to a restocking fee. Please see the Agency Fees FAQs for more details on fees that may be applied.


If the food in question is part of a retail donation, there is a guide attached to this article that will provide visual examples of what is considered acceptable versus unacceptable. Please review the attached PDF document.


What happens if the food I receive is damaged in some way?

If there is damage that appears to come from how items you ordered were handled before they were provided to you, such as forklift damage or crushed cases, please let us know by submitting a ticket. As always, photographs are extremely helpful in identifying whether the product came to us damaged or was damaged either in our warehouse or in transit to your location (if applicable).


What should I do if the food I receive is past its best by or expiration date?

That ultimately depends on the product, as not all dates on food are true "expiration" dates. There are no uniform or universally accepted descriptions used on food labels for calendar dates applied to food products by the manufacturer within the United States. As a result, there are a wide variety of phrases you may see on labels to describe quality dates and many are not actual purchase or food safety dates. Some of the most common are:

  • Best If Used By/Before (sometimes shortened to "Best By" or "Best Before"): This date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality; after that date, the quality or flavor may decline, but the product is still consumable for a period of time that varies by product and storage conditions.
  • Sell By: This date indicates how long the retailer should display or otherwise hold the product for inventory management. The product is still consumable after this date for a period of time that varies by product and storage conditions.
  • Use By: This date indicates the last date recommended for use or consumption of the product while at peak quality. The quality may decline after this date, but the product is still consumable for a period of time that varies by product and storage conditions. The only exception to this is raw, uncooked meat and poultry. Always abide by the use-by date on raw, uncooked meat and poultry, as that date indicates the date by which the meat should be cooked or frozen for food safety purposes.


There is also a possibility that a particular product may be labelled explicitly with an expiration date. If the product's date is preceded by "Expires On/By" or some variation of that, it is safe to assume that is a hard expiration date rather than a flexible date. Some products, like eggs, may also come with a Julian date, which may or may not be accompanied by a sell by date as well. Julian dates are always written in three digits; this number corresponds to the consecutive day of the year, with January 1st written as 001 and December 31st written as 365 (with the exception of leap years). Julian dates refer to the date the eggs were packaged at the packing facility, as well as identifying which plant packaged the eggs. An example of a Julian date is P1189211 - the last three digits of this date (211) correspond to the exact day of the eggs were packaged (in this case, July 30th), while the rest of the code corresponds to the specific packing plant. If a container of eggs has a Julian date but not a sell by date, the Julian date can be used to calculate the date the eggs should be consumed, as eggs are safe to be consumed four to five weeks after they are packed as long as they are kept refrigerated.


NTFB also follows guidelines that have been approved by Feeding America regarding holding and distributing food that is past the respective date on the product. Please be advised that these guidelines apply only if foods are received at the proper temperature. Any food received that is not at the appropriate temperature must be rejected upon arrival.


Food Type Storage Time Recommendations (From Date Of Receipt)

Frozen prepared food

3 months
Non-frozen prepared food 3 days (maximum)
Fresh produce

Whole - 7 days

Cut/prepared - 48 hours

Frozen meat

3 months

Shell eggs (raw) 7 days
Dairy 7 days (if no unpleasant/foul odor)
Baked goods 3-5 days (if no mold present)
Pre-packaged foods - non-perishable

6 months (caution with grains/flours/pastas if not refrigerated due to possible insect infestation)

Source: Feeding America Retail and Foodservice Food Safety Guidelines, version 26 - "Guidelines For Storage Times At Food Bank/Agency" table


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