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Safe Handling of Food Gifts

Many people make gifts of food or order food gifts from mail-order companies, especially during the holidays.

To ensure food items arrive in safe, edible condition, it's important to have some guidelines as to how perishable food and packaging should look when delivered.

This is especially true for meat, poultry, fish, cheese, and cheesecakes, all of which must be handled correctly to prevent foodborne illness.

These tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help you determine if perishable foods ordered from a mail-order company will be handled properly and will be safe to eat:

  • Make sure the company sends perishable items, such as meat and poultry, cold or frozen and packed with a cold pack. It should be packed in styrofoam or heavy corrugated cardboard. 

  • Make sure they're delivered as quickly as possible—ideally, overnight. Make sure the outer packaging is labeled "Keep refrigerated or frozen" to alert the recipient.

  • Tell the recipient if the company has promised a delivery date. Or alert the recipient that "the gift is in the mail," so that someone can be there to receive it. Don't have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know they'll arrive on a workday and there's refrigerator space for keeping them cold.

Follow these tips when you receive a gift of food:

  • Open it immediately and check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible. 

  • Even if the product is smoked, cured and/or fully cooked, it's still a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm, notify the company. Don't taste or consume the food.

The following rules apply to foods prepared and mailed from home to friends and family:

  • Ship food in a sturdy box and pack them with a cold source such as dry ice or frozen gel packs. 

  • Write "Keep Refrigerated" on the outside of the box. 

  • Alert the recipient of the expected arrival date.

  • Don't send packages at the end of the week. Send them at the beginning of the week so they don't sit in the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.