Donations and Safe Food Handling

To encourage companies and organizations to donate surplus food that would otherwise go to waste, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Act was passed in 1996. This federal law encourages the donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to food insecure individuals. It also states that entities that donate food in a good faith to a nonprofit organization are not subject to civil or criminal liability.

Licensed food establishments can donate food that has not been served, including any raw, cooked, processed, or prepared food, ice, beverage, or ingredient used or intended for use, in whole or in part for human consumption, with the condition that the items be wholesome. This includes packaged and prepared foods.

What kinds of foods may be donated? 

chopped vegetables on a cutting board Foods that can be donated:

  • Hot food that was not served to a guest and kept at temperature and/or cooled properly (examples: entrees, soups)
  • Cold food that was not served to a guest and kept at temperature (examples: sandwiches, yogurt, parfaits, salads)
  • Produce (examples: strawberries, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, herbs)
  • Beverages (examples: juice, bottled water, lemonade)
  • Packaged items (examples: dry pasta, canned vegetables, pudding)
  • Dairy products (examples: sour cream, milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Raw meat (examples: beef, chicken, pork)

Foods that cannot be donated:

  • Previously served foods (including, but not limited to, foods from a buffet, foods served to a guest, foods returned to business)
  • Foods in sharply dented or rusty cans
  • Unwholesome food or food that has signs of spoilage 
    ***Please note that a product that is partially unwholesome can still have the wholesome part donated. For example, if a basket of strawberries contains one moldy berry, the unwholesome part of the product must be composted or discarded.***
  • Foods in opened or torn containers, exposing the food to potential contamination
  • Potentially hazardous foods that are past their expiration date
  • Distressed foods (foods that have been exposed to fire, flooding, smoke, or other hazards) 

How can I keep food for donation safe?

 a chef completing a food safety check In order to ensure that donated food is kept safe, donating facilities shall adhere to all applicable sections of the Denver Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations. These rules and regulations are in place to maintain food safety and ultimately the public health of those that consume the food. Donated prepared foods and potentially hazardous foods must meet the temperature requirements as outlined in the Denver Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations.

The best way to ensure these temperature requirements are being met is to monitor the temperature of food with a temperature measuring device, such as a thermometer, and taking appropriate action when required. The safety of the food is the responsibility of not only the donor, but also the deliverer and the recipient of the food. All parties shall ensure, to the best of their ability, that the food being donated, delivered, and served is as safe as possible.

Visit the Public Health Investigations Food Safety page for additional guidance and information.