Food Bank Risk Management: Food Safety

One in five households in the United States faces food insecurity, equating to 17 million households with children who need food. Programs like SNAP and EBT provide for these families, but some families still need additional help. To take care of the rest, local food banks step in to fill their pantries and bellies. However, in an age where a global pandemic is taking over headlines, food safety, and food bank risk management are more critical than ever before.

Food banks typically follow the same strict food safety guidelines that grocery stores do to limit exposure to germs and other risks. However, it’s completely normal if families are apprehensive about the safety of the food they’re receiving from a food bank since the community donates most of it.

Ensuring Safety at Food Banks

The main objective of food banks is to feed as many hungry people as possible. However, this sometimes comes in conflict with another vital initiative: ensuring that all food served is safe to eat. Without proper food safety guidelines on what food is acceptable to collect and disperse, food banks might end up making someone ill or passing along germs, such as COVID-19.

If the rules by which food banks have to abide are too stringent, there’s the chance that the food available to those in need could be limited. This gets in the way of the food bank’s fundamental goal. There is also a growing concern that those who can donate food supply products that are tainted or recalled, without informing food banks that the items are not good to eat.

There are different steps that food bank operations can take to keep from passing along germs, rotted food, or the potential to spread COVID-19.

Food Bank Risk Management Tips

First, food banks need a set of rules regarding what food they will and won’t accept, and put screening processes in place to ensure that those guidelines are strictly followed. Food banks usually spell out these guidelines publicly, posting how they operate on their website or through emails and newsletters. In general, food banks follow the same guidelines as grocery stores and restaurants and employ third-party auditors to ensure that the food banker operations are following these guidelines.

Another step food banks can take is to ensure that the food they accept is salvageable. Donators should be directed to stick to non-perishable foods, check the expiration dates, and make the right judgment calls about whether the food they’re supplying meetings donation standards.

Food banks should also refrigerate more hazardous perishable foods, such as meat, milk, and produce. If not, food spoils and food banks run the risk of being taken over by flies and pests.

Lastly, food banks should also ensure that they have packaged and labeled foods correctly. They can achieve this by designating certain products to separate areas for their storage and preparation.

Working with Volunteers

Although volunteers are not employees, food banks should treat them as such. Volunteers should be vetted by food banks and have relevant licenses to handle food if that’s their responsibility.

Finally, now more than ever, proper hygiene is crucial. Food bank operations should ensure that everyone working or volunteering at their location, whether daily or at events, is healthy and clean. From the right handwashing techniques to equipping everyone with hairnets and gloves and requiring people to be tested for COVID-19 before they sign up to help, food banks need to employ a strict set of hygiene guidelines to minimize the potential for coronavirus exposure.

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