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Businesses donating food - Q and A

E.g. retailers, caterers, manufacturers, etc.

Questions and Answers for businesses donating food to charities

  • What types of food businesses can donate food?

    Food may be donated by food manufactures, caterers, retailers and other types of food businesses once the food is in an acceptable condition and where a ‘use-by’ date is declared, the food is within this date.

  • Is it legal to donate unsold or surplus food to a charity?

    Yes, food business operators can legally donate any unsold food provided that it is still within its ‘use-by’ date, is in an acceptable condition and is handled safely. Food whch has gone beyond its ‘best-before’ date may be donated provided that it is in an acceptable condition and is handled safely. Food business operators must be registered or approved by the relevant competent authority. 

  • What is the difference between a ‘use-by’ date and a ‘best-before’ date?

    Foods, which from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute a danger to human health will be labelled with a ‘use-by’ date. The ‘use-by’ is the date up until which a food may be used safely, i.e., consumed, cooked or processed, once it has been stored correctly. It is illegal to donate food after its ‘use-by’ date.

    A ‘best before’ date, is the date until which a foodstuff retains its specific properties, e.g., taste, aroma, appearance, any specific qualities which relate to the product, vitamin content, etc. when the product has been stored appropriately and the package unopened. It is legal to donate food after its ‘best-before’ date since it is only a quality rather than a safety issue after this date.

  • Can food which is beyond its ‘best-before’ date be offered for donation?

    Food may be donated when it is past its ‘best-before’ date once it is safe and in an acceptable condition. Issues with food carrying a ‘best-before’ date are usually related to quality and not safety. 

  • Should a food business advise inspecting officers of the donation activity?

    Yes, a food business that intends to donate surplus or unsold food should advise the inspector of the extension of the business operation. 

  • What if the donation is only occasional and certain times of the year?

    Where food is only donated on an occasional basis such as for Christmas hampers or for one-off events, it is advisable to discuss the donation with the inspector directly.

  • Is there a restriction on the types of food that can be donated?

    In general, most unsold or surplus food can be donated to a charity once that food is safe, handled appropriately and is within its ‘use-by’ date. Examples of the types of food that can be donated include:

    • Unsold bread and cakes 
    • Dried, canned food in an acceptable condition
    • Whole fresh fruit and vegetables 
    • Food which remains in packaging (but that was bought by a food business in excess)
    • Refrigerated food which has been maintained at 0-5 ºC (and within use-by date)
    • Frozen food which has been maintained at <-18 ºC
    • Portions of food prepared by a food business that has not been served to customers.

    CAUTION: The capacity to ensure the safe donation of certain surplus food will vary depending on factors such as: the type of food/meal, the nature of the establishment, availability of receiving charity and the transport options.

  • Can the food donor freeze food on its ‘use-by’ date?

    Yes, however only provided:

    • that the food is suitable for freezing (e.g. as indicated by manufacturer’s instructions);
    • is in an acceptable condition;
    • is frozen before midnight on the ‘use-by’ date;
    • that this new step is included in the donor’s food safety management system; and 
    • that instructions for use are provided which make it clear that the product should be thawed under refrigeration and cooked immediately. 

    While the food may not be fully frozen before midnight, it must be at least colder than -2º C. The labelling requirements (e.g. regarding shelf life, instructions for use, etc.) will change now that the product has been frozen. See Q9 and Q11).

  • If you freeze prepacked food, what labelling information must be declared?

    As the food has changed from a fresh to a frozen product, the original labelling will need to be amended and the product label must now also contain the following information in addition to the existing information:

    • Best before date (as opposed to original use-by date)
    • Date of freezing for meat and fish
    • New storage instructions *
    • Cooking or defrosting instructions as appropriate
    • Name and Address of the food business operator responsible for freezing the food, i.e. the donor

    Where this frozen prepacked food is, to be supplied in bulk (not individual packs) for use in another food business (i.e., the charity), e.g. used as an ingredient, then all the labelling information can be provided either on the outer packaging of the food or in commercial documents that accompany the food with minimum information required on the outer packaging. The minimum information is as follows:

    • Name of the product
    • Best before date (as opposed to original use-by date)
    • New storage instructions* (as above)
    • Name and Address of the food business operator responsible for freezing the food, i.e. the donor

    Information which is no longer consistent with the new information must be over-stickered/over-labelled or removed, e.g., use-by date.

    The documentation that accompanies the food being donated list any allergens in the food. The charity can use this information to display on loose food that they handle or serve.

  • Can cooked, hot food that is unsold be donated hot to a charity?

    We do not recommend donation of hot food. This is because it would be very difficult to maintain the temperature of the food at or above 63 ºC during transport.

  • Can cooked food that was originally hot held be chilled/frozen for donation?

    Yes, provided the food has not previously been reheated and has been kept at or above 63 ºC during hot holding and has been cooled as quickly as possible and placed in the fridge within 2 hours of the start of the cooling process.

  • Are donating retailers and caterers now required to have a ‘one-step forward’ traceability step in place?

    Yes. Retailers and caterers would only have been required to maintain a ‘one-step back’ system of traceability as they were not required to record individual consumers to whom they sold food. With food donation however, as the food is being donated to other ‘food businesses’, it is essential that the traceability system reflects this. 

    The following information should now be included in the donating food business’s traceability system:

    • Name, address of customer and identification of products delivered/collected.

    The following traceability information should be supplied with all food that is to be donated:

    • Name and address of the donating food business
    • Accurate description of the product
    • Date of Delivery

    In addition to the general rules for traceability above, more specific information is required for food of animal origin, e.g., meat, fish, eggs. Food of animal origin include unprocessed, e.g., raw meat and processed food products, e.g., salami, but it excludes food containing both products of plant origin and processed foods of animal origin, e.g., pepperoni pizza or ham and spinach quiche. 

    The additional information required for these products is:

    • Volume or quantity of food
    • A reference identifying the lot or batch number

    Note: Many charities ask the donating business to assist them with their ‘one-step back’ by providing this information (e.g., by way of a receipt). While the donating business is not obliged to provide traceability information, many assist when asked.

  • What is the advice where one item of a multipack is unfit for consumption but the remaining units are fine, e.g. where one egg in the box of eggs is broken – is it safe to donate the unbroken eggs

    Where any food that is part of a batch or multipack is thought to be unsafe, it should be presumed that all the food in the batch is unsafe, unless following a risk assessment there is evidence that other components in the entire batch are safe. Therefore, where one egg in a box is broken, the remaining 5 eggs in the box would be considered as safe due to the nature of the food however, they may need to be put in a new container if the box is soiled. 

  • What labelling information must be supplied with donated food that was intended to be sold loose?

    Where loose food is being donated, it should be packed in some form to allow transport to the charity. In this case, the following information must be declared on the outer pack/container:

    • Name of the food
    • Date of minimum durability
    • Storage instructions
    • Business name and address of donating food business *

    The business donating the food must supply all of the mandatory labelling information on a document accompanying the food, e.g., delivery docket. See a full list of the mandatory labelling information.

    * If the manufacturer of the food being donated is different to that declared by the donating food business, this will be available through the commercial documents (delivery docket or other) that must accompany the food. The documentation that accompanies the food being donated will list any allergens in the food. See the list of food allergens which must be declared. The charity can use this information to display it on loose food that they handle or serve.

  • What does a food business donating food have to do in the event of a withdrawal or recall?

    From time to time, issues involving the safety and suitability of food may arise along the food chain. For example, this may be due to a packaging defect on the food, an issue with ingredients or a manufacturing or storage problem.

    Withdrawal: The removal of unsafe food from the market before it reached the consumer.

    Recall: The removal of an unsafe food from the market when it may have reached the consumer and the notification of the consumer.

    All food businesses donating food must maintain the one-step forward traceability information as described in Q12.

    The FSAI publishes all recall and withdrawal information in the food alert section. You can also subscribe to receive these alerts.

  • What additional help is available to me?

    The FSAI produced a Safe Catering Pack as a tool to help caterers develop a system to manage food safety and comply with the food hygiene regulations. It includes a set of record books. 

    Our Safe Food to Go booklet is also a very helpful resource to highlight the basis of food hygiene principles.

    Information on traceability and food recall and withdrawal can be found in our Guidance Note 10 - Product Recall and Traceability

    The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) has also published ‘Hygiene in Food Retailing and Wholesaling’ which is an Irish standard to be used as a guide to the food hygiene legislation (Regulation 852/2004).

    If you have any further questions on the safety of donating or storing food, you can email us at