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Saving Food Safely – Food Redistribution during COVID-19

Thank you for sharing your surplus food. 

To make sure that it can be distributed safely and effectively, please follow the following guidelines. We may be able to help you to connect with redistribution networks in your area. If you need our advice, please email food.drink@zerowastescotland.org.uk or call us on 01786 433930.

Food Standards Scotland guidance states that there is no evidence to suggest transmission of COVID-19 occurs through food. Therefore, existing food safety management applies in relation to food redistribution, with an added emphasis on hygiene.

To be suitable for redistribution, all food must be fit for human consumption and compliant with food hygiene, labelling and safety legislation. 

More information on from Food Standards Scotland.

What can and can’t be redistributed


Food can be redistributed provided that the relevant food safety regulations and food safety management system has been in place to ensure potential hazards have been adequately controlled throughout the life of the product. Food must also be clearly labelled with date label, allergen information, storage and cooking guidance.

The following foods are suitable for redistribution:

  • Fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables;
  • Fresh and frozen meat and fish;
  • Dairy products;
  • Chilled ready meals and packaged food;
  • Frozen processed foods (e.g. chips and ready meals);
  • Hot and cold beverages (excluding alcohol);
  • Ambient food including jars and tins;
  • Bakery products;
  • Fresh sandwiches;
  • Eggs;
  • Food with an expired best-before date, provided that it’s in good condition and fit for human consumption.


Food can’t be redistributed if it poses a food safety risk to the consumer or doesn’t meet legal labelling requirements.

The following foods can’t be redistributed:

  •  Food with an expired use-by date (unless it has been frozen before the expiry date – see ‘below’ - Freezing food);
  •  Food that has not been kept at the appropriate temperature;
  •  Food that has damaged packaging with a possibility of contamination;
  •  Food that lacks information on allergens. For more information visit Food Standards Scotland’s allergen guidance;
  •  Food that has been served to a customer;
  •  Food that has been in direct contact with consumers (e.g. buffet-type service);

Redistributing frozen food – what you need to know

Freezing can act as a ‘pause button’ prior to the best-before or use-by dates passing. The organisation carrying out the freezing must:

  • Ensure that the food is in an acceptable condition and suitable for freezing (e.g. as indicated by manufacturer’s instructions);
  • Ensure the food is frozen through to the core;
  • Supply information to the receiving organisation that relates to the food and its freezing – including information about when the product was frozen, and instructions for defrosting and cooking;
  • Remove the original use-by date on the food label (if the product had one) and add a new best-before date;
  • Updated storage and cooking instructions should be applied, explaining clearly that food should be thawed in a fridge and used within 24 hours;
  • Food operations storing relabelled food should have systems in place to record when the food was frozen so that, if inspected by local authority food safety officers, they can demonstrate that such food is safe;

Best before and use-by dates – what you need to know

  • Only donate food before it reaches the use-by date unless it has gone through a safe cooking or freezing process before the use-by date expired. Chilled food that is past its use-by date should never be presented to any person or organisation for consumption;  
  • Label any food that does not have a best-before or use-by date (e.g. surplus cooked food), stating what it is, when it was donated, when it should be used by and if it is safe to reheat;
  • Food can be frozen up to and including the use-by date. How long it can be frozen for is a quality issue rather than a food safety one;
  • If freezing food, ensure that it is in an acceptable condition, is frozen all the way through, is labeled appropriately to confirm when it was frozen, and includes instructions for defrosting and cooking.

Ultimately, the food should be treated as if it was being sold. If you have any questions about food safety legislation then refer to Food Standards Scotland.

Newly updated redistribution labelling guidance is also available here. This Food Standards Scotland approved document has been updated (April 2020) to advise on how long different foods can be expected to be suitable for redistribution after the ‘Best Before’ date. It outlines processes that food businesses and redistribution organisations can use to implement the guidance.

Understanding the difference between a best-before and a use-by date

  • Make sure that all food you are redistributing is within the use-by date. Use-by labels indicate the date by which the food must be eaten. These dates are used on perishable foods that go off quickly and refer to food safety. After this date, food should not be used even if it looks and smells fine as it may contain harmful bacteria.
  • A best-before date is about food quality rather than food safety, so after this date has passed, the food will be safe to eat, but its flavour, colour or texture might begin to deteriorate.

Questions to ask of the recipient

General Information 

What are the contact details?  What is the scale of operation?

Surplus Food 

What quantity and types of food are you able to handle, store and redistribute? Do you have the ability and response time to deal with products with a shorter shelf life? 

Storage, transportation and pick up 

How and when will the transfer happen?

Does the partner organisation have its own vehicle? 

Will a personal vehicle be used for the transfer or will it be picked up by another method?

What size load can be handled?

Will the vehicle used for the transfer be equipped with refrigerated storage space or isothermal boxes?

If the food is to be delivered by your own means, where is it to be delivered?

How and when will the collection of food happen?

Other information

Do you carry out food safety and hygiene training for your staff?

Do you have capacity to take care of the hygiene and safety aspects?


Storing food for redistribution – what to do

You should package your donation in sealed, food-safe bags or containers. The surplus food should be clearly marked. All donated surplus food must be labelled with your organisation’s name, a description of the item, the best-before or use-by date and potential allergens.

The surplus food must be kept away from any food waste. While storing chilled food in the fridge, set your fridge at between 3 and 5˚C to make sure that food is kept cold enough. Your freezer temperature should be at approx. -18˚C.


If you would like help with finding a solution for your surplus food during the coronavirus situation we will do everything we can to help.

Contact us on 01786 433930 or email food.drink@zerowastescotland.org.uk

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