Your Mail-Order Food Safety Manual
Friends and loved ones who live far from home — such as college students or those serving in the military — enjoy receiving care packages. Often these contain homemade treats or other prepared foods.
Whether you are sending a package for the holidays, commemorating a special occasion or just showing that you care, keep food safety in mind when shipping care packages with food.
Why is this an issue? Foodborne pathogens grow faster between 40°F and 140°F, potentially doubling every 20 minutes, in what is often referred to as the temperature danger zone. So take extra precautions to ensure recipients of your care package feel the love and not the effects of food poisoning when they receive their gift.
Keep It Cool
Perishable foods should be kept at or below 40°F during shipping. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, known as FSIS, recommends using a cold source, such as dry ice, to help keep items cold. Packing items in an insulated cooler or with corrugated cardboard for insulation may also help keep it cold longer.
To help minimize the time items spend out of refrigeration, write “Keep Refrigerated” on the outside of any cold storage boxes before mailing, ship items that need refrigeration at the start of the week so they aren’t sitting at the post office on the weekend and notify the person you’re sending the package to when it’s expected to arrive.
Send Non-Perishable Foods
Non-refrigerated foods stay fresher longer and are safe at room temperature, so they make great homemade food gifts and lower the risk of causing food poisoning. Some examples include:
- Dried beef, fruits, canned nuts, dehydrated soups and fruit drink mixes.
- Canned meat and fish specialties along with shelf stable dips and cracker spreads. Remember, any cans that appear to be damaged or swollen should be tossed.
- Dense and dry baked goods such as fruitcakes and biscotti.
- Chocolates, cookies, hard candies and homemade sweets, such as pralines and toffee, are safe to send either cold or at room temperature.
- Condiments, including hot sauce and seasonings, also are safe for mailing. But avoid sending breakable glass containers.
- Commercially packaged cakes, cookies and crackers are safe to mail, but should be shipped in airtight tins
While you don't need to worry about the temperature of non-refrigerated foods, you should protect the original packaging. Sturdy packaging helps keep it undamaged for the bumpy ride ahead.
Inspect Upon Arrival
If you receive a shipment, immediately open any package containing a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated" to check the temperature of cold items. Perishable food should arrive frozen or at least partially frozen. You should still be able to see little ice crystals.
Use a food thermometer to test the item when it arrives. If it's above 40°F, immediately notify the shipping company and do not eat the food.
Whether you're shipping the food item to a home, dorm or workplace, alert the recipient that a gift is in the mail so somebody can receive it. Don't deliver it to an office unless it will arrive on a work day and your recipient has access to refrigerator space.
For more information about the safety of mail-order foods, download the "Safe Handling of Mail-Order Foods" chart from the FSIS.