Mail Order Food Goodies

November 22, 2016

There are many vendors that sell food through catalogs or websites and use a delivery service like the U.S. mail, UPS or FedEx to get them to you. You can choose products that offer complete ingredients for meals or specialty products for yourself or holiday gifts for others. Nothing could be more convenient than picking up the phone or using the internet to get your holiday shopping done. So the question is “how safe are these foods?” Certainly foods like boxed candy, chips, pretzels, and cookies travel well and have a good shelf life. But what about meats, poultry, fish and other perishable foods like cheese or cheesecake?

            The following tips are taken directly from the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) and will help the purchaser or recipient determine if their foods are safe to eat:

  • 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 suspect food.
  •  Tell the recipient if the company has promised a delivery date. Or 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.
  •  If the food is not refrigerator cold, do not eat it. Call the company and most likely they will replace the food items for you. But remember, it is the shipper´s responsibility to deliver perishable foods on time, but it is the consumer´s responsibility to handle it safely as soon as it arrives.

 Many people like to send gifts of homemade foods to friends and family. If you prepare perishable foods yourself to mail as gifts, you need to follow similar precautions. The same rules that cover the mail order industry should be applied to the foods you so lovingly prepare. If the foods you are sending are perishable, be sure to:

  • 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, jams, jellies, cookies, candies, nuts, oils, condiments, coffees, teas or hot chocolate.

 If you receive (or send) mail order foods that arrive in questionable condition, you may contact the following organizations for help: For meat, poultry and egg products, contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-674-6854; For any other food, contact the FDA Outreach and Information Center, 1-888-723-3366. Visit the USDA website for more information on food safety. For written information on this topic, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call QVHD, 248-4528.