Sending food gifts: Do it safely!

Taking time and care to send perishable foods through the mail will avoid foodborne illness.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday is here. If you are thinking of send your special holiday food gifts, be sure to do it safely to avoid giving the gift of foodborne illness. During the holidays, specialty foods get sent to family and friends without thinking about food safety. By planning ahead, those specialty foods will arrive safely through the mail. The following tips for safely mailing food products apply to homemade or purchased foods.

  1. All cold perishable foods need to be shipped at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. To accomplish this, foods like meat and poultry products, vacuum-packaged smoked fish, some sausages and cheeses need to be packaged in a foam or heavy duty cardboard box with a cold pack.
  2. All perishable foods need to be shipped next-day-delivery. The postal service needs to know that the item is perishable. Ask the clerk if the package could be stamped “Keep Refrigerated”.
  3. It is better to ship foods at the beginning of the week. If they get shipped on a Friday, chances are greater that foods will sit in the post office or warehouse over the weekend and won’t be delivered promptly.
  4. Most baked goods, cakes, candies and cookies are safe to ship. But cheesecake and other foods that contain custard or cream fillings do not travel as safely due to the potential for foodborne illness.
                Here are some tips for mailing baked goods:
  • Allow food to cool completely before packaging. If foods are packed warm, drops of moisture will form inside the package creating an environment for a soggy product where mold will grow.
  • Pack the contents in the box so the baked goods will not move around. Use crumpled paper or packing material to help fill in the empty spaces.
  • Bar cookies or brownies will ship better than brittle or soft cookies such as sugar cookies which can break and crumble during shipping.
  • Address the package correctly and completely. Notify the recipient that the gift is in the mail.

If you are the recipient of foods by mail, immediately open the package to check the temperature of the food. Make sure that the perishable food is below 40 F. If the food product is NOT below 40 F, notify the company. Do not eat the food, it may be unsafe. Do not even taste the suspect food.

The same food safety rules apply whether food is served at home or mailed to a friend or relative. Avoid having perishable food in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 F because pathogens will grow rapidly at those temperatures. Many pathogens do not affect how food looks, tastes or smells, yet they make the food unsafe.

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