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Friends and fellow Waukesha County Food Pantry volunteers Jerry and Shirley Stanke had their letter concerning too much food being thrown away published in Wednesday's Journal Sentinel. Retired teachers, they're all too familiar with stretching a dollar, making do, recycling, reusing. I worked with them at a meal program in Milwaukee where they explained how they were able control food waste at this site. They also brought home all the empty cans and milk jugs because the facility where we had served didn't recycle.
They've tried, without success, to get the Food Pantry's policy regarding expiration dates changed. As it stands, foods even one day past "best by" date is discarded. It doesn't make sense to them; especially when other pantries allow up to a year beyond.
I know why Waukesha's pantry doesn't want to go back to the old way of doing it. It's about showing the client some dignity. If we give outdated food it may be safe to eat, but does it still look and taste fresh and not lose nutrients? Clients do mention if they receive expired product. I remember a controversial letter in the Freeman a few years back that drew attention to the Food Pantry. Someone, probably Karen, had to respond that no, they don't intentionally give out expired food.
Jerry and Shirley's letter was well-written, but they left out one main point. If donors to the pantry, or any food drive for that matter, would please check dates before dropping it off there would be far less waste.
A box of dry cereal, never opened, that is dated yesterday - would you toss it in the garbage? As volunteers at the Food Pantry of Waukesha County, we are saddened by the outdated food policy we are instructed to follow. Donated non-perishable food is thrown into a Dumpster if even one day past the expiration date. The extent of this waste is considerable.
Some food pantries in other communities allow a 12-month window before non-perishable foods are discarded. The Department of Agriculture supports that policy because the stamped dates are for optimum quality, not safety, and are determined by the manufacturers.
We have tried without success to convince the board at the pantry to revise its policy regarding non-perishable food. To eliminate waste, the outdated food could be set out for clients who choose to take it or volunteers could be allowed to take it. As volunteers, we would be willing to distribute this food to families and other food pantries that wish to accept it. We are willing to do this on our time and at our expense.
Jerry and Shirley Stanke