EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- They play a large role in keeping food pantries stocked. Each year food drives around the Chippewa Valley feed thousands of people who need it.
Just last month postal workers, food banks and the community joined forces for one of the area's largest food collection drives to date.
In Eau Claire County more than 64,000 pounds of food was collected for the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. But pantries say what comes in for donations isn’t always usable.
Area pantries say they see plenty of expired items come through their doors, but most of the time they say they can still put the food to good use.
“If our guests have any question on the items they can look at a list we have posted,” Trinity Lutheran Church Food Pantry coordinator Sherry Hebert said
Hebert says a chart showing how long foods can be safely consumed after the sell by date has saved thousands of pounds of food from being thrown out.
“This shows canned goods can be used up to two years after the date,” Hebert explained.
Hebert says thanks to the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive they took in and distributed more than 2,000 pounds of food to people who need it. Hebert says donation of that size can make it tough to check that every food item is still good.
“Especially when you get a big drive in and you get a lot of odds and ends. We don't have the man power to look at every item,” she explained.
“The only thing we don't take past the best buy date is baby food,” Minette Fleischer with St. Francis Food Pantry said.
Fleisher says they accept and distribute food that’s past its best buy date because it is still safe to eat, but there is a line.
“Anything older than 3 years we dispose of,” Fleisher added.
“It’s common for people to believe the dates on food are about safety, they aren't. They are the manufactures best guess at peak quality,” Emily Moore with Feed My People Food Bank Said.
Moore says since the food bank started distributing they have not had any reported incidences of sickness from eating past date food.
“Why it gets donated. I think the food is sitting on shelves and people think if they aren't going to use it maybe someone else can,” Moore explained.
“Because we have such a giving community you have to do the best with it because I know the people giving it are giving with their heart,” Hebert added.
Pantries say guests can always choose not to take a past date item. The Feed My People Food Bank also says families at home can avoid throwing out food that is still good by using a website and app called Stilltasty.com. It allows you to enter a product and see how long it is safe to eat past its sell by date. We have a link to that site on the right-hand side of this screen.