Food Safety Guide

Handling Food

Appropriate temperature is especially pertinent to Category 2 – Low Risk Perishable Foods and Category 3 – At Risk Perishable Foods. These foods are at risk for temperature abuse if they are not kept at their proper storage temperatures. Foods that require refrigeration should be kept between 0°C to 4°C and frozen foods at –18°C. Category 1 Non-Perishable Foods are shelf stable and can be just kept at room temperature.

Unaccepted Food

Table 1. Unaccepted Products
Recalled Products
See updated list at
Unlabeled Products
 No or illegible Best Before/Use By/Expiry Date · Product not identifiable · Unknown ingredients
Unpasteurized Products
Juices, eggs, dairy products, home-canned products
Damaged Goods
  •  Products with damaged packaging or tears
  • Opened, bulged, punctured or leaking containers*
  • Broken safety seals   Been exposed to environmental contamination such as fire, flooding, smoke etc.
  • Spill or stains from unknown contaminant  Rodent droppings anywhere in/on product
  • Urine stains
Visible mould, significantly bruised, rotten or has off odor
Although some solid foods with mould can be salvaged, they are not permitted for donation due to sensitivity with handling and contamination. 
Bruising in a large area (mainly produce) degrades quickly and is not ideal for donations.
Mishandled or unsafe foods
  •  Adulterated foods
  • Production of product deviated from food safety protocols
  • Any handling of food has not adhered to standard food safety guidelines
  • Product package has been opened and partially used/consumed  
Open buffet food
Food where people served themselves

*See appendix for reference.  

Evaluate the Safety of Your Product
If your product doesn’t belong to the unacceptable products listed above, that’s great! Now let’s evaluate the condition of the food to ensure it is definitely safe to be donated. If your business has a Quality Assurance team, they need to give the go-ahead on food safety before donations can be posted to Mesh. Any product that wouldn’t be safe for consumers should not be donated.
Danger Zone
The danger zone is the range between 4°C and 60°C where most bacteria grow the fastest. Time that foods are kept in this temperature range should be avoided or kept as short as possible. Category 2 and 3 Foods (Table 2) should be kept in their proper storage temperature.

Food Categories & Risk

 Table 2Food Categories & Risk  
1 – Non-Perishable Foods
Canned goods, dry products (pasta, bread, sugar, legumes), packaged foods that don’t require refrigeration
2 – Low Risk Perishable Foods
Whole produce – fruits and vegetables (have not been cut or processed)
3 – At Risk Foods Perishable Foods
Meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, & protein alternatives, associated products containing these foods, processed products that require refrigeration
4 – Prepared Foods
Cooked or already prepared foods (restaurants, catering events)

Safety Evaluation

The following figure is a flow chart to help determine whether the safety of the product considered for donation. If after using the flow chart and you’re uncertain about the fit for donation, contact us to help figure this out.

Figure 1. Safety Evaluation of Perishable Products.

Best before date or sell by date is a more of an indicator of quality than safety. Food generally declines in quality before there is an increased risk food safety. Often freezing products can significantly prolong the life of the product.
As an overall rule, foods should be kept at their proper storage temperatures and not be removed until it is ready for donation.
Table 3. Maximum accepted storage time of products frozen before expiration.
Product Category
Time Past Best Before Date
Room Temperature
Fresh Fruit & Vegetables
2-7 days
1-4 Weeks (produce dependent)
1 Year
Fruit or Vegetable Juices (Tetra Pak or Bottled not requiring refrigeration before opening)
1 month (Tetra Pak)
3-6 months (Tetra Pak)
1 Year
1 Week
2 Week
1 Month
Grains & Cereals
6-12 Months
Soups & Stews (Could be in Food Service Package or larger)
< 2 Hours, 1 Year if canned
2-3 Days
3 Months
Meat (Uncooked)
< 2 Hours
3-4 Days
Red meats & whole poultry: 12 Months, poultry pieces: 6 months, ground meat: 2-3 Months, fish 2-6 Months, shellfish 2-4 Months
Meat (Cooked)
< 2 Hours, 1 Year if canned
Fish & shellfish: 1-2 days, others: 3 days
Red meat: 3 Months, whole poultry: 2 Months, food mixture: 3 Months
Deli meat
< 2 Hours, 1 Year if canned
5-7 days
2-3 months
< 2 Hours after opening
2 weeks (after opening/reconstituted)
6 months
Combination Foods (contains a mix group of foods)
1 Year if canned
3 Months
Fats (oils, butter, plant-alternatives)
1 Week
3 Months
6 Months

Traceability & Transportation