LOGAN — Many may be surprised to hear that February marks National Canned Food Month.

National Canned Food Month began in 1987 to raise awareness on the value and safety of canned foods, according to nationalcalendar.com.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, Napoleon is considered “the father” of canning. Canned food later became popular in the United States in the 19th Century.

Today, canned foods are a part of everyday life, but also play a notable role in local food pantries.

Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP), the parent organization of the Southeast Ohio Foodbank & Regional Kitchen, distributes food to low-income individuals throughout 10 counties in southeast Ohio. According to 2018 data from feedingamerica.org, Hocking County has a food insecurity rate of 14 percent, which means there are about 3,990 people experiencing food insecurity in the county.

Though accompanied by grains and fresh products, shelf-stable items and canned foods are provided in much of HAPCAP’s food distribution, Claire Gysegem, public relations manager at HAPCAP, said. Canned foods, though not as ideal as fresh foods, are a way to ensure a nutritional diet, especially during the winter months.

Canned foods are easy for HAPCAP to store and distribute, Gysegem said; skids and skids are stacked ceiling-high in its food warehouse. HAPCAP distributes around an estimated quarter-million cans of food per month, Gysegem added in an email.

“I will say that when it comes to donating canned food items, there’s a lot of school fundraisers and stuff, canned food drives,” Gysegem said. “Those are best suited for smaller pantry operations, where they have the volunteer base and capacity to sort through and organize those times and store them, whereas the foodbank, where we receive an assortment of canned goods – it would take a lot of time for our warehouse laborers to sort out individual cans.”

Canned foods are a great source of fruits and vegetables, Gysegem said. But canned items are also especially important to those in extenuating circumstances.

“Some pantries I’ve visited, especially ones that are extremely rural – they have special impact boxes, sometimes for families who may not have running water or (electricity),” Gysegem said. “Having those shelf-stable items is so important; it’s healthier if you’re in transient situations, it’s easier to store and (move around a lot).”

Canned food safety is also recognized as a part of National Canned Food Month as well. According to the USDA, not all canned goods are shelf-stable. Some canned food is labeled for refrigeration.

Canned foods and other shelf-stable products should be stored in a cool, dry place, too. People should also avoid buying bulging, rusted, leaking or severely damaged cans. Food from rusted cans isn’t safe for consumption, neither is severely dented cans, nor cans that have frozen and thawed.

Gysegem recommends calling pantries before donating canned items to confirm the need. She also recommends donating money to HAPCAP rather than items, as HAPCAP can use the funds to purchase items on a different basis; HAPCAP can turn $1 worth of donations into $15 worth of food, she said.

According to hapcap.org, there are five Hocking County member agencies that help distribute food in the county: the Laurelville Community Food Pantry, the Longstreth Food Pantry, the Shepherd of the Valley United Brethren in Christ, St. Vincent De Paul Society (Logan) and the Smith Chapel Food and Clothing Mission.

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