Expired Canned Food Donation – Is That Okay To Do It?

donating canned food is okay or not

Last Updated on August 6, 2023 By Emma W. Thomas

Yes, it is okay to donate canned food that has crossed its expiration date. A lot of food donation stations and food banks accept expired canned food as a donation, and it is highly appreciated. However, if the food is visibly spoiled, rotten, or moldy then you should not donate it.

Expired Canned Food Donation – Is That Okay To Do It?

1. Dig Into The Date Labels
Understanding the importance and implications of `expiry’ and ‘best before’ dates is crucial. One should not judge the safety of canned food strictly by the dates on the label. An ‘expiry date’ refers to the last day a product is safe to consume while a ‘best before’ date is about quality and not safety. A product past its ‘best before’ date might lose its fresh taste but might not be necessarily harmful.

2. The Condition of The Can
Consider the physical state of the canned goods before donating them. A dented, rusted, or swollen can indicate that the food is unsafe to consume, irrespective of the expiry date. It’s best to hold off on donating such items.

3. Seek Professional Advice
If unsure, get professional guidelines from reputable sources like health and safety organizations. They can offer some insight into how long after the best-before-date canned foods are still safe to consume.

4. Local Food Banks Guidelines
Food banks often have clear guidelines about what they can and cannot accept. It’s essential to inquire about these specifics before making any donations. Some institutions might not even accept canned goods for numerous reasons, expired or not.

5. The Intent Behind Donation
The idea of food donations is to provide nourishment to those in need, not to dispose of unwanted, potentially unsafe food. Donating food items that one would not consume themselves is not ethically right and might even cause harm.

6. Liability Considerations
In some countries, there are laws that protect food donors from liability as long as the food was believed to be safe at the time of donation. One needs to be aware of such laws before deciding to donate expired canned goods.

7. Pondering Long-Term Solutions
While donating canned food can address immediate hunger, it doesn’t solve the enduring problem of food security. Prolonged solutions could involve supporting policies and programs that aim to combat poverty and hunger in a sustainable way.

Expiry vs Best Before DatesEnsure understanding of different date labels.
Can ConditionAvoid donating dented, rusted, or swollen cans.
Professional AdviceSeek professional advice if unsure about the safety of food.
Food Bank GuidelinesRespect the guidelines laid down by your local food bank.
Donation IntentThe aim is to provide nourishing food, not dispose of unwanted goods.
Liability LawsBe aware of liability laws surrounding food donations
Long-Term SolutionsSupport policies and programs that offer sustainable solutions to food insecurity.

What Is Canned Food?

Canning means preserving food for a longer duration of time by keeping it in an airtight container. It was developed in the 18th century for sailors and soldiers during the war. Canning involves three main steps.

Processing involves slicing, peeling, chipping, pitting, boning, cooking, or shelling. The next step involves sealing the food in airtight containers. After that, the cans are heated to kill any bacteria and to prevent the food from getting spoiled.

Donating Canned Foods.jpg

Is It Safe To Eat The Canned Food Post-Expiration?

When donating food, we should feel responsible for the health and well-being of people who might eat such food. Canned food post-expiration may not taste the best. However, there is no threat to the consumer’s health even when the canned food is consumed post-expiration. The product should remain in good condition. The cans should not be bulging, rusting, dented, or leaking. 

Why Should You Not Donate Cans Which Are In Bad Condition?

Cans in the case of canned food consist of a hermetic seal and a protective lining. This ensures that the products remain preserved for a longer duration. It prevents external microorganisms from entering the cans. The packaging is done in a way so that the food does not come in contact with the metal of the can.

However, when a can is swollen, rusted, or dented, it is likely that the food is not edible. If the outside can have dents, it is probable that the impact which caused the dent may have destroyed the interior lining as well. The rusting can appear when the contents of the can have come in contact with the can. This could have caused the metal to react with the canned food, and rust may appear on its surface. The reaction can also cause the can to bulge and become swollen. 

The growth of bacteria can also be a possible reason for the can to bulge due to the release of certain gases. The release of gases will cause internal pressure, which may cause the can to get swollen, or it will start leaking. The leak can also be caused due to a dent or any other reason. 

However, when a can is leaking, it means that it is no longer in an airtight seal. The contents may react with the environment and could result in bacteria growth. Also, external microorganisms may get inside the can. Hence, it is not safe to donate canned food that is dented, rusted, swollen, or leaking.

The condition of the can is consequential even when the canned product is well within its expiration date. 

Draw A Table To Illustrate The Canned Foods That Can Be Donated?

The following table might be helpful when you are thinking of donating canned food as it illustrates canned food fit for donating.

Canned FoodFit For Donation
Expired canned foodyes
Canned food with destroyed canNo
Opened cansNo
Food that requires refrigerationNo
Food canned at homeNo

What Is The Relevance Of The Expiration Date For Donating Canned Food?

Since we mentioned that you could consume as well as donate canned food past its expiration date. You might be wondering why the packaging mentions the expiration date anyway. This is due to two main reasons.

1. To indicate the date up to which the product remains in the best condition.

2. To help you choose fresh products.

The expiration date is when the customer can expect deterioration in a product. This is the time when a product starts losing its color, flavor, or other changes in appearance. There could also be changes in nutritional value. 

However, this does not mean the product is harmful or hazardous to health. The product can still be used or even donated to a food donation station that accepts expired canned food.

The second reason to put an expiration date on canned food is to help you choose the fresh product. You can compare the expiration date of the two products and choose the fresh one so that you can use it for a longer duration.

Is it okay to donate canned food

Can You Donate Canned Food With Opened Cans?

If you have opened the can, your product will go bad in a few days despite its expiration date. Also, most food donation stations do not accept opened cans as a donation. This is due to safety reasons and keeping in mind the health issues that may occur.

What Types Of Canned Food Can Be Donated?

You can donate all kinds of canned food. Some of the canned foods accepted by food banks are:

  • Peanut butter
  • Pasta 
  • Rice
  • Canned Beans
  • Canned Fish 
  • Canned Fruit
  • Canned Soup
  • Canned Vegetable
  • Canned Stew 

This is not an exhaustive list; however, it contains the items most preferred by food banks and food donation stations.

Olive oils, marinades, and dressings are also accepted if they do not need refrigeration. Also, food with damaged packaging is not preferred by food donation stations. Items with opened packages are segregated by volunteers and are not distributed. Opened canned food cannot remain edible even for a few days without refrigeration. Even when kept in a refrigerator, canned food can only remain edible for two to three days.

Many food donation stations do not prefer food canned in a personal kitchen as the ingredients cannot be vouched for. Canned food with not-so-perfect packaging is also not distributed. This involves rusted cans, bulging cans, any dents on cans, and leaking cans.