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Child & Adult Care Food Program

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Guidelines for donated foods

Maintaining a nonprofit food service operation is usually not very difficult for most care centers. For the majority of centers we work with, the costs for food and labor exceed the amount of CACFP funds received each month. Some centers are eligible for and make use of their local food banks to help stretch their food dollars. Others find that receiving the USDA commodity foods helps reduce their food budget and provide quality, nutritious meals. Some centers are lucky enough to have people who are willing to donate a variety of foods for their use. We especially find this is true at the time of year when summer and fall gardens leave many people with more fresh home-grown produce than they can handle on their own.

From time to time, centers ask our staff about the allowability of "donated" foods for use in a CACFP reimbursable meal. Among the situations we've encountered include a grocery store that donates all of its day-old bread products to a center sponsored by a church; parents who want to bring "birthday treats" for snack; and parents or employees who bring in the excess from their abundant gardens. Some centers even have their own gardens that are cared for by children or adult center participants.

Our staff recognizes that many centers can use all of the help they can get. It is also the responsibility of a care center to provide nutritious meals for participants. Our staff wants to provide some guidance for using such foods that fits within the program regulations and that also has some flexibility in the real world.

The federal regulations do not always incorporate every conceivable situation that may arise. We often look to regulations in other Child Nutrition programs as a guide to providing solutions to the questions we receive. In developing a rule-of-thumb for claiming meals that include donated foods, we turned to the meal pattern requirements for infants, since it has provisions for parents to provide food (breast milk or formula).

This should NOT be interpreted as free reign to solicit donations, nor as permission to ask parents to provide snacks or portions of meals. That is not our intent by offering some recommendations. This is for those times when people might approach the center and say something like, "I've got more tomatoes and cucumbers than I can use. May I bring them in for the kids?"

Before accepting any foods from external sources, safety and sanitation must be of utmost concern. If in doubt, check with your local health department.

For safety reasons, home-canned or home-frozen foods may not be used. Game is not creditable in the CACFP unless it is processed at a state inspected processing facility (locker plant). Refer to the booklet, Crediting Foods in the Child and Adult Care Food Program for additional information.

If parents want to bring "birthday treats," you may want to consider some consequences. With items prepared in private homes, you have no control over what goes in the food, nor the sanitation conditions in which it was prepared. Do you want to be responsible if several children get sick on something that came from outside your center? Because of this concern, many centers require that only pre-packaged commercial products may be brought for special occasions.

The next step is in properly documenting donated foods. First of all, it is assumed that the food is a creditable component for the CACFP meal pattern. Centers are already required to document a nonprofit food service operation and keep receipts for food expenditures. During our reviews, one of the things we examine is if there is a correlation between the foods recorded on menu production records and itemized grocery receipts. In the example of the center that receives all of its bread items from a generous grocery store - we would question why the center is not spending any funds on bread items. Therefore, when serving a creditable food that was donated, the production record should indicate that the item was donated. For example, a parent may have brought some birthday treats. The production record would be completed as usual, with an additional notation such as "from Mrs. Jones for Johnny's birthday."

As a CACFP participant, it is the responsibility of the center to provide the food for meals being claimed for reimbursement. Our guidance is that a maximum of one component per meal or snack service may be provided by anyone other than the center. This will allow centers to benefit from the generosity of others and still meet CACFP requirements. Remember, you also have the option of serving the "donated" foods as an extra to the meal or snack already planned.


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