How to handle holiday mail-order surprises

Mail-order food packages must be opened immediately to avoid food-borne illnesses.

The holiday season brings wonderful surprises in the mail. Did you receive a mail order gift of food like a cheesecake or smoked meat this holiday season? If perishable food gifts are received, they need to be taken care of promptly or there might be an issue of food borne illness. Perishable foods are those foods that require refrigeration, such as smoked meats, fish, and poultry, eggs, caviar, some cheeses, frozen entrees, game birds and meat. Even if the food is fully or partially cooked, smoked, cured, or vacuumed packed, the food is perishable and needs to be kept refrigerated. Perishable food cannot stay in the temperature danger zone where the food borne illness pathogens can grow to dangerous levels in a short period of time. The temperature danger zone is those temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The mail order food is shipped in a heavy corrugated cardboard or Styrofoam package. The mail order companies will either send the food product frozen or with a cold source such as a frozen gel pack or ice pack. The food product should have been mailed overnight or marked “keep refrigerated”.

Things to consider receiving mail order food gifts
  • Open the package immediately to determine if the food is still frozen, partially frozen or refrigerator cold.
  • If the food gift arrived frozen or refrigerator cold (below 40 F), return to the freezer or refrigerate
  • If the food gift is not below 40 F, notify the company
  • Never taste a food suspected of being time and temperature abused
  • There are time limits for keeping mail order food. Check out a complete chart.

So, when a mystery mail order food package arrives from Great Aunt Sally, open it immediately and check to see if it is still frozen, partially frozen or refrigerator cold. Then take care of it, so it can be enjoyed for the holiday season.

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