Mail order food gifts – care is necessary

It is fun to give and receive holiday gifts such as homemade food, but perishable foods need to be kept out of the temperature danger zone.

A holiday package has just arrived from Aunt Susie. A quick inspection shows that it is smoked salmon. But it is not cold, nor is there a cold source in the box. What to do? Is it safe to eat?

Unfortunately, it is not safe to eat because you do not know how long it has been without refrigeration. All meat, fish and poultry, fresh or smoked need to be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, even when the product is mailed. Foodborne illness pathogens grow rapidly in the temperature danger zone. If a perishable food is left out of refrigeration for more than two hours someone could get sick.

The following are some food safety tips recommended by Michigan State University Extension to keep in mind when ordering perishable food as gifts that will be mailed:

  • Check to see if the company sends the perishable foods packed in a foam container or heavy duty corrugated cardboard box with a cold source, or frozen.
  • Check the shipping details. Perishable foods need to be delivered as quickly as possible, preferably overnight. The outside packaging should be labeled “Keep Refrigerated” as an alert to the recipient.
  • If you are the recipient of a “Keep Refrigerated” package, open it immediately to check to see if the product is cold, ideally below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can be checked with a food thermometer. Other evidence of the package being cold is the product is still frozen or has ice crystals.
  • If the product is cured, fully-cooked, smoked and/or vacuum-packed, it is still a perishable product that needs to be received cold.
  • If the product is received warm and the temperature is measured to be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit –do not eat or taste! Notify the company, that the package was received improperly.
  • If you are giving a perishable food gift, notify the recipient of the delivery date the company has promised, so someone can be available to receive the perishable gift.

It is fun to bake and make family favorites and send them across the country to family and friends. When sending perishable foods, it is still important to abide by the mailing perishable foods checklist. The holidays are a time of giving a receiving. By following these tips, the perishable food gifts can truly be enjoyed without the worry of a foodborne illness. No one wants a gift of a foodborne illness.

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