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Guidance on the Donation of Leftover Food

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information

To: Child Nutrition Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-CNP-04-2012

Attention: Food Program/Service Directors

Date: May 2012

Subject: Guidance on the Donation of Leftover Food in Child Nutrition Programs

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Policy Memos SP 11-2012, CACFP 05-2012, and SFSP 07-2012; SP 29-2009, SFSP 04-2009, and CACFP 07-2007; Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, Section 9; California Health and Safety Code, sections 113871, 113876, 114079, and 114432; California Civil Code Section 1714.25; California Department of Education Management Bulletins 96-110 and NSD-SNP-05-2008
Supersedes: USDA Policy Memos SP 29-2009, SFSP 04-2009, and CACFP 07-2009

This Management Bulletin (MB) provides an update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regarding the donation of leftover food in Child Nutrition Programs (CNPs), which includes the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

On November 18, 2011, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2012 (Public Law 112-55) amended the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA) by adding paragraph (1), the Food Donation Program, at the end of Section 9. This amendment provides statutory authority for CNP schools and agencies to have food recovery and food donation policies.

The USDA has had a longstanding food donation policy in all CNPs and now the current amendment to the NSLA clarifies this policy through statute. The amendment does not require changes in the current food donation policies followed by California’s CNPs.

The statute clarifies that any food prepared for CNPs but not consumed may be donated to “eligible local food banks or charitable organizations.” The amendment defines the terms “eligible local food banks or charitable organizations” to mean any food bank or charitable organization that is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 [(26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3)]. It also extends protections against civil and criminal liability for persons or organizations when making food donations to the extent provided under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, found in Section 22 of the Child Nutrition Act, which can be viewed on the USDA Gleaning Initiative Web page at [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid].

The USDA reminds CNP directors and staff that federal policy may be more permissive than state and local requirements; and all food donations must comply with state and local requirements. CN staff should consult with their local health departments for specific guidance on donating leftover food and establishing “sharing tables.”

Food and Nutrition Services Food Donation Policy

The FNS is committed to preventing hunger and responsible stewardship of federal dollars. This updated CNP policy aims first to limit food waste and unnecessary costs. If a school, CACFP institution, or SFSP sponsor has leftover food on a frequent basis, menu planning and production practices should be adjusted to reduce leftovers.

The USDA recognizes that due to unforeseen circumstances, CNPs will occasionally have leftover food. CNPs should exhaust all alternatives permitted by program regulations and state and local health and sanitation codes before they discard food. Options include using leftovers in subsequent meal services, offering “sharing tables” (see below for restrictions), or transferring food to other sites. When it is not feasible to reuse leftovers, CNP staff may donate excess food to a non-profit organization, such as a community food bank, homeless shelter, or other non-profit charitable organization.

Nutrition Services Division Reminders

1.  Before your program donates leftover foods or establishes “sharing tables,” consult with your

     local health department for information on what particular foods and menu items can be:

  • Reused at another meal
  • Offered on a “sharing table”
  • Donated to a non-profit charitable organization

2.  Potentially hazardous foods that staff or children remove from the kitchen cannot be reused, recycled, distributed on “sharing tables,” or donated. Among other things, these hazardous foods include unopened cartons of milk or single servings of prepackaged cheeses, even if they have been washed down and kept on ice.

3.  Leftover food that is donated cannot be claimed for meal reimbursement.

4.  CACFP Day Care Home providers are not permitted to donate leftover foods.


The following resources offer CNPs additional guidance on the use of leftover foods:

  • Your local health department
  • California Retail Food Code, Section 113871 “potentially hazardous foods,” Section 113876 “prepackaged food,” Section 114079 “reuse of leftover foods,” sections 114432 and 114433 “donation of foods and protection from liability”:
  • The USDA "Best Practices" Manual For Food Recovery and Gleaning in the National School Lunch Program: [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid]
  • The USDA’s Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery: [Note, the preceding Web address is no longer valid]
Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact the most appropriate NSD staff member to your agency.

NSLP and SBP: School Food Authorities may contact Ashley Osterman, Child Nutrition Consultant, School Nutrition Programs Unit, by phone at 916-445-1261, or by e-mail at

CACFP: You will find a list of contact information for your CACFP specialist in the Download Forms section of the CNIPS.

SFSP: You can reach your SFSP Specialist by phone at 800-952-5609, Option 6, or call 916-445-0850 to be directed to the appropriate staff person.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, October 4, 2017