by Amelia Kermis, MPH CHES, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA
A popular holiday tradition is sending gifts of food through the mail. Ordering or sending food through the mail poses a potential food safety threat if the food is perishable. Whether you are ordering specialty meat from a company or sending homemade sausage to a friend, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline has compiled tips to ensure that your foods arrive safe to eat.
The following food safety tips will help you select a company that will handle your mail order food safely:
- Make sure the company sends perishable items, like meat and poultry, cold or frozen and packed with a cold source. Preferably the cold source should be dry ice.
- The food should be packaged in a foam or heavy corrugated cardboard container.
- The food should be delivered as quickly as possible – ideally, overnight.
If you are packaging food yourself to send as a gift through the mail, make sure to use the “miniature deep-freeze” packaging method. In addition to the food you are sending, you will need an insulated cooler, plenty of wrapped dry ice, a corrugated box to fit the food, and polyethylene film. Once you are ready to send the package, assemble as shown in the image.
While everyone likes to surprise their loved ones with gifts during the holidays, it is best not to surprise them with a gift of mail delivered food. You want to make sure that your recipient knows that the gift is coming, as they should be ready to receive the gift and immediately refrigerate it.
Additionally, let the gift recipient know how to check the package to ensure that the food stayed at a safe temperature while in transit. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold – below 40 °F as measured by a food thermometer. Even if the food is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it is still perishable and must be kept cold.
If food arrives above 40 °F, throw it out. Perishable food held between 40 and 140 °F can rapidly grow bacteria. As the bacteria may not affect the taste, smell or appearance, you cannot tell if the food has become unsafe to eat. The safest choice is to throw out the food without tasting it.
By following these tips for safe mail delivered food this holiday season, you can be sure you are giving the gift of holiday cheer and not holiday food poisoning.
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