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How It Works

A question that we are often asked in the ASI Cougar Pantry is how are we able to supply food to students at little and sometimes no cost. 

Where the Food Comes From

Food at the ASI Cougar Pantry is all purchased through either the North County Food Bank, Feeding San Diego or acquired through a food rescue program called retail rescue.

The money used to purchase the food comes from the ASI fee that each student is required to pay upon enrollment. As a non-profit, ASI is able to partner with these entities and purchase food at a considerable discount. The produce at our Fresh Market Monday distributions is all delivered by Feeding San Diego or the San Diego Food Bank.

Food Rescue, Retail Rescue, and Dates

Food rescue is the process of acquiring food from an outside source that would otherwise go to waste and redirecting it to someone in need. In the ASI Cougar Pantry, we participate in retail rescue programs with grocery stores such as Sprouts and Ralph's.

So, what exactly does retail rescue mean? Typically, food items are taken off store shelves when they are past the "best buy" or "sell by" date. Many people confuse this with an item’s expiration date, but it is something entirely different. A "best by" date does not correlate to a food’s safety for consumption. Rather, it informs the consumer of how long the food will be at its prime in terms of flavor and nutritional value. In other words, eating something that is past its "best by date" will not make you sick or harm you in any way, it just may not taste as fresh or flavorful as it would before the best by date. An expiration date, however, does inform you about a food item’s safety for consumption. Once a food item is past its expiration date, it is no longer safe for consumption. Food items that grocery stores can no longer sell because it is close to or past its “best buy” date will be donated to partner agencies such as pantries or churches to distribute to those in need. 

Because of this, some of the food found in the ASI Cougar Pantry may be close to or past its “best buy” date. Part of our mission at the ASI Cougar Pantry is to provide nutrition and food waste education. One very important aspect of decreasing food waste is understanding that, although a food item may be past its “best buy” date, it is still safe to consume. The USDA has helpful guidelines surrounding food safety. If any student has any questions about food safety or any particular food found in the pantry, they are welcome to ask any staff member in the pantry space or email us at