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General Donation Information

Donating Food
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Donating food to those in need is the next best food diversion practice after source reduction.

Much of the food that is thrown out is surplus or cosmetically damaged but still edible, and as such can be used to feed the hungry.

Under the guidance and support of the non-profit organization Feeding America, food banks/rescue operations around the country, including 10 in New York State, collect donations of nutritious foods from farmers, food processors, and retail institutions, etc. Each food bank/rescue works within their network of pantries and shelters to distribute food, such as fresh produce, prepared meals, or non-perishable items, directly to people in need. Each year, food banks/rescue operations send out 3 billion meals worth of food. In addition to donating to food banks, the smaller food shelters, pantries and soup kitchens many times accept donations directly.

Find a food bank near me

It is recommended to work through your regional food bank whenever possible. However if that is not practical or desired, there are many sources of information on local food pantries and food rescue organizations in New York State. The three sites listed below have the most extensive information on food pantry locations across NY state. At the bottom of this page you can find links to more existing sites that offer food pantry information on a more localized basis.

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Donating Food Chart

What do I need to know?

Donating food is the most preferable diversion method in several ways, including cost. Unlike some other diversion methods, making food donations is usually no/very low cost to the donator and can also garner tax deductions. However, if your business consistently has large amounts of edible food going to waste, be sure to explore options for reduction before moving on to diversion.

What type of food is appropriate?

  • Food that is still fit for consumption but not able to be used at your business should be donated whenever possible. Most food banks accept donations in varying amounts from cases to truckloads.  Some examples of donatable food items include:

    • Produce
    • Dry-store goods (bread, flour, grains)
    • Refrigerated items (dairy, meats, prepared foods*)
    • Non-perishable items (cereals, pasta, canned goods, jarred goods, mac&cheese)
    • Frozen perishable food (vegetables, meals, meats)
    • Bulk and raw ingredients (rice, spices)
    • Beverages (protein shakes, juice, tea)
  • There are several reasons why your business may come to have food that is perfectly good to eat, but not able to be used or sold at your establishment. Over preparing and over purchasing are major reasons, but not the only ones. Some others include:

    • Short-coding / short-dating of products
    • Cosmetic damage
    • Mislabeled or non-labeled items
    • Discontinued, test-market and private-label brands
    • Customer returns
    • Surplus products
    • Creating promotional items
    • New product introductions
  • Guidelines around donations near or past their sell by and best by dates vary by food bank/rescue. Certain banks will accept shelf stable food regardless of the sell by and use by dates and some will do so within a certain window of time. Guidelines are much more stringent for perishable foods, but generally if the food is not spoiled it will likely be accepted as donation.

* Not all food banks/rescues accept prepared food donations

Practical Aspects

  • Many food banks/rescues will require that any prepared food donations be frozen for at least 24 hours before being donated. So, making these kinds of food donations can be more difficult for businesses operating with very limited space.

  • Food banks/rescue operations collect food and redistribute that food to their network of food shelters (i.e. food pantries, soup kitchens, etc.). Although you can work directly with food shelters, it is usually easier for large businesses to work through a food bank/rescue because larger quantities and a wider variety of donations are accepted.

    • There is no clear cut difference between a food bank and a food rescue, but a food rescue operation usually will accept prepared food more readily than most food banks. In addition, food rescues typically do not keep large storages of food on site the way that food banks will, but rather collect and then quickly redistribute food.

  • Each region of New York State is covered by a specific food bank and/or food rescue operation. So, whatever your location, you will have a regional food bank to work with. Visit this page to find your closest option.

Other Considerations

  • The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages donation by protecting donors from liability if the product causes harm, except in cases of gross negligence. As stated by the Act:

  • “A person or gleaner shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product that the person or gleaner donates in good faith to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals.”
    Visit the Feeding America website for more information.

  • Under Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code, businesses making food donations are eligible to deduct the costs of producing, packaging and delivering the donated products, plus 50% of the difference between the cost and the fair market value of the product. This used to apply only to C Corporations, but was expanded to include all companies in 2015.

  • See this Legal Fact Sheet from Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic for more liability infomation: New York Food Donation: Liability Protections 

How do I get started?


  • Tax deductions - many costs associated with making a food donation (including purchasing and handling food) are tax deductible. See this Legal Fact Sheet, made by Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic for more information.

  • Typically no / low cost - the only fees a company may incur from making food donations would be the transport to a food bank/rescue. However, many food banks offer pick up services. Food that is donated does not incur any disposal fees.

  • Moving inventory - donating food offers an outlet for inventory that is difficult to move.

  • Tracking - donations are documented, and tracked. This can be beneficial for tax deduction purposes, but also for identifying opportunities for source reduction.