By Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Mail-order foods have been around for awhile and now ordering online makes it easy to send or receive a tasty gift. Perhaps you placed an order for a gift of food for yourself or a family member or plan to send a gift of food. Either way, make sure it’s handled safely so you keep your family food safe.
A safety Checklist for Mail-Order Foods
- Make sure the company sends perishable items, like meat or poultry, cold or frozen and packed with a cold source. It should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.
- The food should be delivered as quickly as possible — ideally, overnight. Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled "Keep Refrigerated" to alert the recipient.
- When you receive a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated," open it immediately and check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold—below 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm — above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer — notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste it.
- Alert the recipient that "the gift is in the mail" so someone can be there to receive it. Don't have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.
A Safety Checklist for Perishable Foods Prepared at Home and Mailed
- Ship in a sturdy box.
- Pack with a cold source, i.e., frozen gel packs or dry ice.
- When using dry ice:
- Don't touch the dry ice with bare hands.
- Don't let it come in direct contact with food.
- Warn the recipient of its use by writing "Contains Dry Ice" on the outside of the box.
- Wrap box in two layers of brown paper.
- Use permanent markers to label outside of the box. Use recommended packing tape.
- Label outside clearly; make sure address is complete and correct.
- Write "Keep Refrigerated" on outside of the box.
- Alert recipient of its expected arrival.
- Do not send to business addresses or where there will not be adequate refrigerator storage.
- Do not send packages at the end of the week. Send them at the beginning of the week so they do not sit in the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.
- Whenever possible, send foods that do not require refrigeration, e.g., hard salami, hard cheese, country ham.
For more information including a diagram of how to pack a perishable food items visit our fact sheet Mail-Order Food Safety.
Have a safe and happy holiday!
If you have any questions about turkeys and Thanksgiving, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
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