Consuming fresh foods a race against time for food banks

Eating right often comes down to economics, says the Daily Bread Food Bank’s Sarah Anderson.

“Hunger is not about food, it’s about poverty,” she said.

Through its network of more than 170 member agencies, the Daily Bread served nearly 800,000 clients from April 2010 to March 2011, according to its 2010/2011 annual report.

“Our focus is mainly on non-perishables (but) it’s most important that perishable foods are consumed as soon as possible,” said Anderson, Daily Bread’s senior manager of communications.

In addition to distributing raw perishable foods, including fruits and vegetables, the food bank uses perishables in making the roughly 150,000 meals it sends to its member agencies a year, she said.

“It’s one of the reasons we have an industrial-sized kitchen: to be able to turn around some of that fresh food into things like soups and stews,” Anderson said.

Some of those meals — which include frozen soups, trays of pasta, rice and vegetable dishes — make their way to Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA).

“It’s very important that we are able to receive the (cooked) food,” said Christine Markwell, food bank coordinator at ACSA. “Six times a week, we have 40-50 people eating.”

In addition to the cooked and frozen meals, ACSA receives fruits and vegetables from Daily Bread and Second Harvest, among other organizations.

“Perishables from the food banks usually have good dates on them,” Markwell said.

Still, some fresh foods are past their best-before date when delivered, which can mean bacteria and mold.

“We check the food to see if it’s edible,” Markwell said.

Spoilage bacteria are not generally harmful, William Navarre, assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, said in an email interview. Those bacteria can make the food taste off or can lead to stomach upset, he said.

Mold, Markwell said, gets zero tolerance.

“If it has any mold on it, we throw that away,” she said.

But, Navarre said, not all mold is bad.

“Most household sources of mold that grow on food are harmless when eaten, although a few can produce toxins that hurt the kidneys,” he said. “Most items with mold can have it cut away (along with a zone nearby) and the remainder of the food should be safe to eat.”

Distributing healthy, fresh food is a constant challenge facing Daily Bread, Anderson said.

“We know we are not able to provide as much food or as diverse quality food as we would like to,” she said. “We do the best we can with what’s donated.”