Safely sending, receiving food gifts during holidays
By Brenda Phipps
It's that time of year again, when the holidays are right around the corner. Maybe you want to make your holiday shopping a little easier by ordering and sending some of your friends and family gift boxes of cheeses, meats or delicious desserts. If you are planning to send or receive perishable food items, follow these tips to keep them safe:
During the holidays, many people send food gifts. These items, whether store bought or homemade, need to be handled properly in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, which could cause foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases each year (cdc.gov).
Perishable food gifts must arrive cold to be safe to eat. If you receive a gift that is not cold at the time of delivery, do not eat it. Instead, notify the sender. It's better to be safe than sorry. Food gifts marked "Perishable" or "Keep Refrigerated" need to be opened immediately and placed in the refrigerator or freezer.
If you are ordering food gifts, transit time and product packaging are vital - specify overnight delivery and request a frozen gel pack or dry ice, along with foam or heavy cardboard designed to keep foods cold.
Foods prepared at home may also be shipped to friends and family, but care is required. First, be sure to follow proper food safety procedures, such as hand washing and prevention of cross contamination, when preparing foods. Visit fightbac.org for more information about basic food safety.
Once you are ready to ship your homemade foods, make sure items are frozen solid or refrigerator cold prior to shipping. Pack in an insulated cooler or heavy cardboard box with a frozen gel pack. Dry ice can also be used, but don't let it touch your hands or the food. Let the recipient know the box contains dry ice. Wrap the box in two layers of brown paper and mark it "Perishable-Keep Refrigerated."
Ship perishable food gifts by overnight mail, and try not to send packages at the end of the week because delivery could be delayed over the weekend. Let the recipient know a food-bearing package is on its way so that someone can be home to accept delivery and get the food refrigerated immediately. It's best to send food gifts to someone's home because if you send them to a workplace, the food could be accidentally left at the office or in a car. Confirm that someone will be home, and then send your surprise to their house.
For more information about mail-order food safety, visit the following link: fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Mail_Order_Food_Safety/index.asp.
Adapted from: Tips for Safely Receiving and Sending Food Gifts by Amanda Scott, program specialist, Expanded Nutrition Program, November 2007
Brenda Phipps is a Victoria County extension assistant.