School Food Donation Guidelines


Donation of food helps reduce food waste and food insecurity concerns in communities. The intent of this is to provide food safety guidance for school programs that want to recover and provide food to needy students or donated food distributing organizations such as food banks, shelters, or soup kitchens. While helping to alleviate food waste and food insecurity concerns, donation of food has a potential risk of contamination and temperature abuse that can be minimized with appropriate control steps.


On November 18, 2011, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2012 amended the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act which provided statutory authority for schools and other USDA nutrition programs to have food recovery and donation policies. The statute clarifies that any unconsumed food may be donated to eligible local food banks or charitable organizations. The amendment defines eligible local food banks or charitable organizations to mean any food bank or charitable organization that is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.


Individual school or district nutrition programs planning to salvage food for donation must consult with their local health department before beginning a recovery program. The operating requirements and expectations will vary depending on the foods donated and the facilities available. At a minimum, programs should consider and be prepared to explain the following when pursuing food donation.

Which donated food distributing organizations will receive the donations? Written agreements outlining delivery days, transportation plans, temperature monitoring, source tracking, and other logistics information help ensure wholesome food and traceable delivery.

Will potentially hazardous foods be donated? Commercially-packaged, shelf-stable snack foods do not need special approval for donation; however, donation of potentially hazardous foods will require restrictions or additional procedures such as temperature monitoring to ensure the distributing organization may accept the food.

Will home-prepared food be donated? Only commercially-packaged, shelf-stable products should be accepted from the public for donation.

Will previously-served foods be donated? Distributing organizations are not allowed to receive previously served foods, even intact food items such as whole fruits or packaged dairy products, without additional safety precautions and written approval from the health department.

How will food planned for donation be collected and identified? Food for donation may not be reintroduced to the food supply for the school. Participants must have a plan for safe food separation, identification, and storage.

Will the school participate in an internal, organized food sharing program for students such as Backpack Brigade? Food safety standards such as temperature requirements and safety of sources extend to meals that go home with the students.

Who will be responsible for coordinating the donation program? Safe donation will require a coordinated, planned effort. Ensure representatives from the school and the distributing location work together to provide safe recovery, transportation, and service of the food.

Donation of School Meals to Outside Recovery Sites

Previously served food includes all food that has been in the hands of a consumer such as food selected by students from a salad bar or cafeteria line. Previously served food for recovery and donation should be limited to the following, unless otherwise limited by the local health department:

Considerations for Internal School Donations

Additional Notes for Safe Food Donation

More Resources

Charity Food Donation Guidelines

Guidance on the Food Donation Program in Child Nutrition Programs, USDA

Content Source: Food Safety Program