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  • Marlene

Food Donations And Labeling

Trellis has partnered with 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh based non-profit dedicated to reducing food waste, to bring you more information about laws surrounding food donations. Although some food businesses are already donating food to food banks and other food distribution organizations like 412 Food Rescue, there is room for many more to join the efforts.

In our last blog post, we detailed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which limits liability for food donation. However, the Act details that all donated food has to meet Federal, State, and local laws and regulations. These laws and regulations typically relate to date labeling. Therefore, in this post, we are going to talk about date labeling.

Date labels are a separate label from nutrition facts and you may recognize them as the “use by” “sell by” “best if used by”, etc. notations you see on many food products. However, date labels are often misleading, and can result in safe, wholesome food being needlessly thrown away. In light of this, we’re going to break down labeling requirements for food donations and clear up this confusion to help encourage the donation of food.

Federal Food Date Labeling

Federally, there are no laws regulating date labels. However, Congress has given the FDA and USDA general authority to ensure food safety and protect consumers against deceptive or misleading labels. However, the only current requirements created by the agencies are-the FDA requires date labels on infant formulas, and the USDA states that if foods falling under its purview decide to use date labeling, either voluntarily or under state law, they must include:

  • A day and month (and year for frozen or shelf-stable products) and;

  • An explanatory phrase, such as “sell by” or “use before.

Pennsylvania State Date Labeling Requirements

Next, we are directed to look at state requirements. Pennsylvania has minimal date labeling requirements, but requires date labels on dairy and shellfish and restricts the sale or donation of milk after its sell-by date.  

The State regulations require the following for milk:

  • “The cap or nonglass container of pasteurized milk held in retail food stores, restaurants, schools or similar food facilities for resale shall be conspicuously and legibly marked in a contrasting color with the designation of the ‘‘sell-by’’ date—the month and day of the month after which the product may not be sold or offered for sale. “

  • The words ‘‘Sell by’’ or ‘‘Not to be sold after’’ must precede the designation of the date, or the statement ‘‘Not to be sold after the date stamped above’’ must appear legibly on the container. This designation of the date may not exceed 17 days beginning after midnight on the day on which the milk was pasteurized.The sell-by date shall be separate and distinct from any other number, letter or intervening material on the cap or nonglass container.

  • “Pasteurized milk may not be sold or offered for sale if the milk is sold or offered for sale after the sell-by date designated on the container.”

  • Certain products are exempt from the requirements on milk, which are: Ultra pasteurized dairy products; Cultured dairy products; Aseptically processed dairy products; Dairy products that have undergone higher heat shorter time pasteurization; Milk sold or offered for retail sale on the same premises at which it was processed.

The State regulations pertaining to shellfish are:

  • Harvester and Dealer labels must include the date of harvest of Molluscan Shellfish.

  • If shellfish is received shucked it shall bear:

    • For packages with a capacity of less than 1.87 L (1/2 gallon): the “sell by” or “best if used by” date.

    • For packages with a capacity of 1.87 L (1/2 gallon) or more: the date shucked.

Allegheny County Date Labeling

Finally, in addition to Pennsylvania’s requirements, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) has established additional date labeling requirements for “retail refrigerated processed foods packaged in a modified atmosphere.” Modified atmosphere packaging is where the internal atmosphere of a refrigerated food’s packaging is altered to be different from the outside air in order to increase the quality and longevity of the food.

Examples of refrigerated foods often found in modified atmosphere packaging are pre-packaged meats, fruit and produce sold in bags or clear boxes, and packaged cheese. In regulating these foods, the County requires that:

  • Each package of refrigerated retail processed food in a modified atmosphere must bear a “Use By” date.

  • The “Use By” date must not exceed 14 days from retail processing and must be listed on the principal display panel in bold type on a contrasting background.

  • Packaging must also bear “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen” on the principal display panel in bold type on a contrasting background.

  • Any date assigned by a retailer cannot go beyond the manufacturer’s “Pull Date”

  • Modified atmosphere packaged foods shall not be sold past the “Use By” date on the label.

However, Allegheny County exempts all foods that remain frozen before, during and after processing from the date labeling requirements.

So what can we glean (get it?!) from all of this? Donating food is simple, and the laws are in place to protect you! First, there is no federal law directly addressing date labelling and therefore regulation has been left to the State and any local agencies with authority. Pennsylvania, at the State level, only regulates milk and shellfish and Allegheny County regulates refrigerated processed foods.

One crucial point to note for food donations is that milk cannot be sold or donated after its “sell-by” date and modified atmosphere foods cannot be sold or donated after their “use by” date. Neither the State or County provide for any method in which food that is regulated not to be sold after a “sell-by” or “use by” date can still be sold/donated.

If you do not happen to live within Pennsylvania or Allegheny County it is important to check with your state or local health department for their guidelines and if you have concerns about food donations.

We hope that this blog will dispel some of the myths and alleviate some of the fears related to food donation! To learn more about 412 Food Rescue and how you can volunteer your time or donate food to help those in need visit their website here.

If you have questions about food donation laws or labeling guidelines shoot us an email at

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