Everyone loves getting packages in the mail. Especially when they are gifts of food—either homemade or from mail-order companies. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind as you send or open your holiday food packages.
Which Foods Are the Safest for Gifting?
It can be hard to know which foods are safest for gifting. Here are some you may not have thought of:
- Jams and preserves, dried fruit, nuts, candies, and canned foods that do not need to be refrigerated
- Dry-cured country-style hams, beef jerky, hard salami, and other low-moisture meat products that do not need to be refrigerated
- Cookies, fruit cakes, and packaged processed cheese products
Sending and Receiving Holiday Food Gifts
First, arrange a delivery date and share it with your gift recipient. Or alert the recipient that the gift is in the mail so that they are ready to receive it. If not, it may sit (unsafely) on the front porch or at the post office for hours or days. Do not have items sent to an office unless you know the person will be there and that there is space to keep the item cold.
All foods come with instructions on how to handle and prepare them. Food products marked "Keep Refrigerated" should be opened right away. The temperature should also be checked. It should arrive frozen, partially frozen with ice crystals still visible, or cold to the touch. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods right away. It is safe to freeze partly defrosted foods, but there may be a slight loss of quality.
If food arrives warm, request a refund. Do not eat it. It's the shipper's job to deliver the food on time and the customer's job to have someone at home to receive the package.
Tips for the "Mail-It-Yourselfer"
Pack it safely. Foods that are frozen first will stay at a safe temperature longer. They should be packed with a cold source, such as a frozen gel pack or dry ice.
Use a strong box. Pack your frozen food and cold source in a strong cardboard or heavy foam box. Fill up any empty space with crushed paper or packing peanuts. Any air space in the box will cause the food and cold source to thaw more quickly.
Label it. Label your package as "Perishable: Keep Refrigerated." Arrange a delivery date with the recipient. This is not the time for surprises. Ship your package by overnight delivery.
Food and Recipe Alert!
You may want to update holiday recipes that use raw or lightly-cooked eggs, such as eggnog. It can lower the risk of foodborne illness. Even refrigerated grade-A eggs with clean, uncracked shells can be contaminated with bacteria.
Eggs must be cooked to kill any bacteria. Recipes that call for raw eggs are not safe. Do not worry about cakes, cookies and candies, though. Eggs used in baking get cooked and reach a higher temperature than is needed to kill bacteria.
Holidays are fun, but hectic. But by keeping your holiday foods safe, you'll have one less thing to worry about.
US Department of Agriculture
US Food and Drug Administration
Canadian Public Health Association - Food Safety in the Home
Dietitians of Canada
Botulism, foodborne. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated May 4, 2018. Accessed February 13, 2020.
Seasonal food safety. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/seasonal-food-safety. Updated September 29, 2017. Accessed February 5, 2020.
USDA meat and poultry hotline. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/programs-and-services/contact-centers/usda-meat-and-poultry-hotline. Updated September 23, 2019. Accessed February 5, 2020.
Last reviewed November 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 2/2/2021