Charities receiving donated food
Questions and Answers
Why do charities have to register as a food business?
Under the food hygiene legislation, all food businesses are required to register with the local environmental health office as this serves to notify the inspectors of the food activities being carried out in each premises.
What does this registration process involve?
To register a food business, contact the environmental health officer (EHO) in the locality (full list available here) who will send you out a registration form. Once completed, return the form to the office. An EHO will schedule an inspection based on the types of activities carried out. There is no charge for registration.
If we only prepare drinks and sandwiches or serve breakfast as part of our breakfast club, are we required to register with the environmental health office?
The registration process applies to all food businesses handling and serving food. However, where food handling is minimal, such as breakfast clubs serving cereal and toast, it is advised to discuss registration with the EHO directly, as some activities may be exempt.
Do charities operating occasionally require registration?
Charities that operate occasionally such as organising cake sales, assembling Christmas hampers or one-off events should discuss registration with the EHO directly.
Does a charity have to comply with food hygiene legislation?
Yes, it is essential that all food businesses (including charities) comply with the food hygiene legislation to ensure that the food they supply/serve is safe. The food hygiene legislation is Regulation (EC) No 852/2004.
What is traceability?
It is a system in which a food business must record what ingredients/food products it receives and from whom. It must also record what product it dispatches to which customers with the only exception being direct supply to final consumers, i.e., the people that you serve. This is called the ‘one-step forward, one-step back’ system. All food businesses must have a traceability system in place.
What traceability is required if a charity receives food from a food business to cook and/or serve on the premises?
Traceability in a charity serving and supplying food requires a ‘one-step back’ system where the charity must know who supplied it with each batch of food. This is to track and trace the food in case there was a safety issue with the donated food.
The charity should receive and record the following traceability information from the food business which is donating the food:
- Name and address of the supplier
- 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 numbers
To make it easier to record the ‘one-step back’ traceability information, it is recommended to talk to the donating business to see if it could generate a receipt or if there was some way of using their ‘one-step forward’ traceability information. While the donating business is not obliged to provide traceability information, it may assist if asked.
Are staff or volunteers working in a charity required to have completed food hygiene training?
Staff and volunteers handling and serving food within a charity are required to be trained and/or supervised appropriate to the level of activity they are involved in. There are a number of training options available which include developing an in-house training programme for staff based on the FSAI’s Safe Food to Go and/or the FSAI’s Guides to Food Safety Training.
The training guides detail the food safety skills food handlers and non-food handlers should demonstrate in the workplace.
Other training options are as follows:
- Attend the FSAI’s ‘Food Safety and You’ course which provides staff with the skills to carry out basic food hygiene training of their own staff
- Avail of an independent trainer provider
- Avail of e-learning programmes
Are food charities required to maintain a HACCP system?
Yes, all food businesses, including charities, are required to put in place and maintain a food safety management system based on the principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). Charities are required to ensure that all steps are put in place to prevent a hazard causing a risk to the safety of the food.
- Microbiological, e.g., bacteria, viruses
- Chemical, e.g., cleaning solutions, pest control agents
- Physical, e.g., glass, jewellery, screws
- Allergens, e.g., any one of the allergens
The legal requirement is flexible and takes into account, the size of the business and in particular, the nature of the activities. The FSAI has 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. This pack is offered free of charge to charities. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your charity number and address.
What types of food can be received by a charity?
Any unsold or surplus food may be donated once it is still in a condition that would mean that the food could still be sold, i.e. an acceptable condition, and is within the ‘use-by’ date, where appropriate. Examples include:
- Unsold breads and cakes
- Dried, canned foods in acceptable condition
- Whole fresh fruit and vegetables
- Food which remains in packaging (but that was bought by a food business in excess)
- Refrigerated items which have been maintained at 0-5 °C ( and within ‘use-by’ date)
- Frozen food which has been maintained at <-18 °C
Caution: The capacity to ensure the safe donation of certain surplus food, e.g., cooked food from retailers and caterers will vary depending on factors such as: the type of food/meal, the nature of the establishment, the availability of receiving charity and the transport options.
What is the difference between a ‘use-by’ 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.
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.
Can food which is beyond its ‘use-by’ date be offered for donation?
No. Any food that has gone beyond its ‘use-by’ date should not be donated by any food business, nor should it be offered to customers of the charity as there may be a safety risk with such foods.
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.
Can donated food be frozen by a charity on the ‘use-by’ date?
Yes however, only provided that:
- The food is suitable for freezing, e.g., as indicated by manufacturer’s instructions
- The food is in an acceptable condition
- The food is frozen before midnight on the ‘use-by’ date
- This new step is included in the food safety management system and the food is thawed under refrigeration and cooked immediately.
While the food may not be fully frozen before midnight, it must be at least colder than -2 ºC. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that the food is used within one month of freezing.
Can charities who freeze food, donate that food to the final consumer?
No, any food which is frozen by the charity can only be defrosted, cooked and served on the premises.
Must allergen information be displayed/available for all foods served or handled in charities?
Yes, certain allergens that are intentionally added to a recipe or are contained in an ingredient used in a food must be declared in some written format near the food being offered. This is to ensure that individuals with food allergies can identify the presence of the known allergens in the dishes/food being served.
Where prepacked food is being distributed by a charity, the allergen information will already be highlighted on the list of ingredients on each label.
How do I display allergens?
The allergen information for each dish or food must be displayed in some written form near the food where it is freely available to those consuming the food, so that they do not have to specifically ask for it. This written form could be on a wall chart listing all foods being handled/served or it may be written in front of the food being served.
An example of how to display the allergen information for spaghetti bolognese is below:
Other examples of how to display allergen information on loose foods are available in:
What are the refrigeration/cooking/hot holding temperatures?
- Refrigeration temperatures = 0-5 °C
- Cooking temperatures = 75 °C instantaneously in the core (thickest) part of the food
- Hot holding temperatures = 63 °C
- Reheating temperatures = 70 °C at the core (thickest) part of the food
How should food be defrosted safely?
Thawing should be carried out in such a way as to minimise the growth of micro-organisms. Thawing methods include placing the food in a fridge overnight (remember all uncooked food should be defrosted on the bottom shelf of the fridge) or in a microwave oven (always follow manufacturer’s instructions).
Can food be cooked and then chilled to be used in the charity the following day?
Yes, food that is cooked by a charity can be cooled and stored in a fridge to be used the following day. Temperature control is essential throughout the steps involved. The food must be cooked thoroughly, cooled quickly (within two hours) and then stored in the fridge at a temperature between 0-5 ºC. All cooked food should be labelled with the date of cooking and should be used on a first in, first out basis.
Can food be cooked and then frozen to be used in the charity at a later date?
Yes, food that is cooked by a charity can be cooled and frozen to be used at a later date. Temperature control is essential throughout the steps involved, when the food is cooked (thoroughly), cooled quickly (to refrigeration temperature of 0-5 ºC) and then stored in the freezer. All cooked food should be labelled with the date of cooking and freezing. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that the food is used within one month of freezing.
What does a charity 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, e.g., this may be due to a packaging defect on the food, an issue with ingredients not being declared on a food label 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 Q.7.
The FSAI publishes all recall and withdrawal information in the food alert section of the website.
What labelling information should be on the foods coming into a charity?
Any food that is donated in a prepacked form, e.g., box of cereal, pot of yogurt or jar of jam, will be required to have all of the mandatory labelling information declared on the label.
Where the food being donated was originally intended to be sold loose by the donating food business, it may bulk pack the food for delivery/transport to the charity and this business then need only display the following four pieces of information on the outer packaging of the bulk pack:
- Name of the food
- Date of minimum durability, i.e. ‘use-by’ or ‘best-before’ date
- Storage instructions
- Business name and address of the donating food business
All of the mandatory information must also be provided by the donating business in a document accompanying the food, e.g., delivery docket or invoice.
* 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. The charity can use this information to display on loose food that it handles or serves.
Are we required to have information displayed regarding the origin of beef?
Yes, under separate legislation, food businesses that are cooking and serving beef on their premises are required to declare the country of origin of ‘prepared beef’. This includes beef brought into the premises as fresh or frozen and cooked within, or beef that is brought into the premises already cooked and then served on the premises, e.g., sliced cooked beef.
What additional help is available to our charity?
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. A free Safe Catering Pack is available to all charities by emailing email@example.com and giving its charity number.
The FSAI Safe Food to Go booklet is also a very helpful resource to highlight the basic food hygiene principles.
The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) has also published Hygiene in the Catering Sector I.S. 340:2007 & A1:2015, which is an Irish standard to be used as a guide to the food hygiene legislation (Regulation 852/2004). This standard is available free of charge to any charity by contacting the NSAI directly (www.nsai.ie).
If you have any further questions on the safety of donating or storing food, you can email the Food Safety Authority of Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org.