Food pantries are nonprofit organizations that distribute food to needy individuals and families. These organizations are required to abide by state and federal regulations. People who receive assistance generally are subject to income restrictions and rules. The United States Department of Agriculture supplies many food pantries. Organizations that receive or plan to receive items from the USDA are required to follow certain rules that may not apply to organizations that do not rely on the USDA.


The USDA strives to ensure that it is not supplying any organization that has unfair practices. Food pantries are prohibited from discriminating based on factors such as color, national origin or sex. Furthermore, food pantries must display “And Justice for All” posters that inform people how to report discrimination.


Food pantries are required to maintain certain documents regarding their activities. For example, food pantries that distribute USDA-supplied food must have documents signed by the recipients that confirm their eligibility. These documents should acknowledge that the household income is 130 percent of the federal poverty level or less. A poster displaying income guidelines by family size must be displayed.


Food must be stored in accordance with public health regulations. For example, food pantries are not allowed to receive or distribute perishable or frozen items unless they have refrigerators or freezers. USDA-supplied food must be stored separate from other supplies. Food must be distributed in its original packaging.


A food pantry must clearly display its hours of operation.


Recipients must be made aware that the food that they receive cannot be sold. Recipients are made aware of this with a mandatory poster that displays this and other rules.


Food pantries cannot profit from the assistance that they offer. Food pantries are not allowed to require money or services from their clients as a condition for food.


Political activities are prohibited at food pantries. Workers cannot wear political attire or accessories. No political paraphernalia can be distributed or displayed.


The USDA requires state agencies such as the Department of Human Services to regularly evaluate food pantries to ensure that they comply with state and federal regulations. How often this is done can vary from state to state.