Compiling food into food parcels
Questions and Answers
Do charities handling and distributing food parcels or other donated food have to register as a food business?
Yes, under the food hygiene legislation, food businesses are required to register the business with the local environmental health office (EHO) 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 local EHO (EHO contact details) who will send 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. Enforcement of food legislation is carried out by EHOs for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Does a charity handling and distributing food parcels (other donated food) have to comply with food/hygiene legislation?
Yes, it is essential that any food business (including charities) comply with the food hygiene legislation to ensure that the food it supplies/serves is safe. The food hygiene legislation is Regulation (EC) No 852/2004.
What if I work alone and only collect food once a week from food businesses to redistribute as a food parcel?
If you only operate occasionally, it is best to discuss registration with an EHO directly. It is important to remember however, that the hygiene and temperature control requirements will still apply.
What types of food can be received by a charity compiling and distributing food parcels?
Any unsold or surplus food may be donated, once it is in an acceptable condition and is within the ‘use-by’ date where appropriate. Examples include:
- Dried, canned foods 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 between 0‑5 ºC (and within the ‘use-by’ date)
- Frozen food which has been maintained at <-18 ºC
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 availability of the receiving charity/individual, and the transport option.
What if I am just collecting food from a donating food business to deliver immediately to individuals in the form of a food parcel?
While there are no specific safety issues with ambient food that is donated and used in a food parcel, the food should be handled and transported hygienically. Where chilled or frozen foods are received and used in a food parcel, temperature control is necessary. Chilled food must be kept between 0‑5 °C and frozen food must be kept at < -18 °C. Suitable containers may be required to ensure that the chilled/frozen temperature is maintained during transport.
What if I collect donated food, bring it back to my home to compile food parcels to deliver over/within a couple of days?
Food parcels may be compiled in individuals own homes but consideration must be given at all times to the safety of the product. Therefore, the food parcels must be compiled in a hygienic area away from the risk of cross-contamination and the temperatures of chilled (0‑5 °C) or frozen food (<-18 °C) must be maintained at all times.
What if I am collecting food from a donating food business to deliver to another food charity for use in a food parcel?
Any food that is collected from a donating food business must be transported under controlled temperatures where the food is chilled or frozen. Suitable containers will be required to maintain the temperature during transport/redistribution. All other food not requiring temperature control must be transported in a hygienic way to prevent any cross-contamination or risk to that food.
What if I collect food from a donating charity to bring back to a refuge/church for collection by individuals?
The transport of donated food must be carried out under temperature controlled (as appropriate) and hygienic conditions. Where the donated food is then left in a central location for individuals to pick from, this storage must also be controlled. All chilled food must be placed immediately into a fridge and kept at a temperature of 0‑5 °C and all frozen food must be placed in a freezer (<-18 °C). Consideration must be given to the dates declared on food. Any food that is leftover in the central collection area must be checked and foods gone beyond their ‘use-by’ date, must be discarded.
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 information must I keep if I receive donated food for donation as food parcels?
Traceability in a charity handling donated food for food parcels is 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 if there was a safety issue with the donated food. The ‘one-step forward’ system is not required in this case.
The charity should record the following traceability information from the food business 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 its ‘one-step forward’ traceability information. While the donating business is not obliged to provide traceability information, it may assist if asked.
What labelling information should be on the foods coming from a donating food business?
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 (Appendix 2) declared on the label and this information will not be altered by the donating food business.
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 only needs to display the following four pieces of information on 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 which can be forwarded on with the food. This will contain details of any allergens present in the food being donated. See a full list of the allergens.
What about repacking?
If an individual opens and repacks certain food products for donation, they will be required to transfer all of the mandatory labelling information onto the redistributed foods. See a full list of the mandatory labelling information. Restrictions are in place for the repacking of foods of animal origin such as meat, fish and cheese. Charities wishing to repack these foods should first contact the FSAI on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 the charity number.
Our 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 an Irish standard, ‘Hygiene in the Catering Sector’, I.S. 340:2004 & A1:2015 which can be used as a guide to the food hygiene legislation (Regulation 852/2004). This standard is available free of charge to charities who contact 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.