An Examination of Food Handling Practices at Food Pantries

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Virginia Tech


The latest edition of the Food and Drug Administration's Model Food Code provides the definition of an acceptable donated food item but does not specify any safe storage or handling standards for these items. Virginia has not adopted this edition, but its own food handling regulations provide liability protections to food donors and exempt food pantries from any relevant retail food handling regulations. This means that food pantries must provide their own oversight over implementation of safe food handling requirements. Some pantries only accept nonperishables, but others accept both perishable and nonperishable food, or prepare/repurpose food on site. Therefore, pantries have varying needs in terms of safe food handling and preparation oversight and guidance. This project aims to observe food safety practices at food pantries within Virginia, and to establish a set of recommendations based on these observations for food pantries to consider implementing. Twenty pantries throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia were observed when distributing food using a standardized rubric. This rubric allowed the observer to collect detail on food storage, handling, and preparation at the pantry. Each pantry was visited once and observed for about two hours. The manager of the pantry completed a survey to determine basic food safety knowledge. Generally, pantries successfully followed basic food safety guidelines, however there were some clear risky practices observed. These included improper handwashing, improper storage of perishable items, and improper volunteer personal hygiene. There were only two handwashing attempts observed between all 20 pantries and neither of these attempts was correct. In addition, 8 of 20 (40%) of the pantries did not keep up to date records of their refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Lack of personal hygiene, especially the use of personal items while handling food and lack of glove usage, was a concern. 9 of 20 (45%) of pantries had someone on site using a personal item while handling food, and 4 of 6 (67%) of pantries that prepared or cooked food on site had volunteers improperly wearing gloves during these activities. Managers at seventeen of twenty (85%) pantries reported completing some type of food safety training while only volunteers at six of twenty (30%) pantries reported the same. This demonstrates gaps in knowledge between volunteers and managers. The results of this study demonstrate the need for standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be made available for food pantries, as well as a food safety training created specifically for food pantry volunteers that is applicable to their scope of work.



food pantries, observations, food safety, extension