Food Rescue

female volunteer working in community food center

Food Matters: Solutions for Food Waste Prevention

Download the food waste best practices flyer here:

English Flyer(PDF, 5MB)

Spanish Flyer(PDF, 5MB)

Best Practices to Save Food in Pantry Operations

Including these four best practices in your program operations could save you money by optimizing food purchases. These practices will also minimize food waste and provide an improved experience for clients by maximizing the usefulness and cultural relevance of food offered. 

  1. Offer Clients a Choice Model

    During a series of focus groups with Denver residents, those who obtain food from food banks and pantries commented that the lack of cultural relevance of food they have received (i.e., clients are given food they are not familiar with) and the lack of diversity of food offered (e.g., too much of the same type of food) leads to wasted food at home. A Foodshare Food Pantry Best Practice guide noted that 50% of food in pre-packed boxes may be wasted due to clients having no interest or use for the food.

    • Focus group participants expressed a strong preference for models allowing them to choose the food they would like to eat.
    • If a choice model is not possible, participants asked to be provided with recipes to learn how to prepare unfamiliar foods. Cooking Matters offers a fantastic list of simple, easy recipes in English and Spanish.
    • If pre-packed boxes are the only option, make a “swap table” available to clients by providing a place where they can place food they don’t want or exchange it with other clients.
    • If offering pre-packed boxes, aim to give clients the option to request or choose from other items in addition to what is provided in the boxes. 

    Money saving tip: By matching clients’ cultural preferences with food offered, your pantry might save money on food orders. For example, by ordering less of certain types of food not many demographics are interested in or supplying dried food (which is preferred by some cultures) instead of canned food, you reduce the chance of food waste. Food Bank of the Rockies offers a comprehensive list of culturally relevant food preference suggestions for the following cultures: Eastern Shoshone, Ethiopian, Latin American, Northern Arapaho, Russian, Somali, and Vietnamese. 

  2. Education on Date Labels

    Date labels, such as best-by, sell-by, and freeze-by dates, are usually an indicator of food quality, not safety. Many people are unaware of this distinction and may decline wholesome past-date food for fear of becoming ill. If your pantry offers past-date foods, consider adding a sign in a visible area of your pantry clarifying the meaning of date labels. Alternatively, you can provide clients with flyers explaining the date labels. Expiration date flyers can be found in English and in Spanish.  

  3. Follow Food Safety Guidelines

    Food will maintain its freshness longer and remain safe to eat if food safety protocols are followed. Food safety is of primary concern with populations that may have underlying health issues. Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment makes food safety signage available for print. You can also attend State’s Food Safety training class, or contact DDPHE’s Food Safety Investigator team to find out when the next free, in-person food safety workshop will take place by emailing or following DDPHE on Facebook and Twitter.

  4. Ask and Follow Through with Client Feedback

    There are a variety of ways you can improve your offering by gathering client feedback:

    • Gather anonymous feedback - Most food banks and pantries report surveying clients about the food they offer. However, clients may be uncomfortable providing in-person feedback criticizing the food they receive. Consider administering anonymous surveys once or twice a year or putting a feedback box in your pantry. This will help with receiving more honest feedback due to the anonymity clients will feel when submitting.
    • Conduct listening sessions, community group meetings, or workshops to gather solutions on how to implement the feedback received. Set up these opportunities to showcase how the input provided will help improve the work you lead. Prioritize community outreach by inviting clients to join the meetings.
    Regardless of how you seek feedback, follow through by telling clients how their input will be used or implemented and why. See this toolkit for resources on how best to engage your community.

If You Want to Take It a Step Further, COMPOST! 

Compost food that can’t be donated instead of discarding it. Food in the landfill doesn’t decompose efficiently (over 25 years for lettuce!); in fact, landfill food releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. For a composting service, contact your waste service company, Scraps Mile High or Compost Colorado.

For additional information or if you have questions, contact DDPHE’s Food Waste Program Administrator at