Food safety with mail order food

There are a few tips to follow to ensure the safety of any foods that are sent through the mail.

A stack of cardboard boxes with rolls of mailing tape next to them.
Photo: Blue Budgie/Pixabay.

Holidays increase the number of packages being shipped that contain food items. When mailing food items, it's important to be aware of food safety guidelines. Here are a few tips to follow to ensure food safety and quality when shipping home-prepared or purchased foods.

When shipping perishable foods (those that require refrigeration), such as meat and poultry products, vacuum-packaged smoked fish and cheese, keep at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.  The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) suggests shipping in a foam or heavy cardboard container or insulated cooler with dry ice or other cold source. Send these packages as quickly as possible —ideally, overnight. Label the item and outer package “KEEP REFRIGERATED.”

To avoid delays in delivery, ship foods at the beginning of the week. It is advised to alert the recipient that “a gift is in the mail” so that they or a neighbor can be home to receive it, to avoid sitting on the front porch or post office for hours or even days. 

Shipping foods such as baked goods, candy, commercially packaged cookies or crackers requires no temperature control. Avoid baked goods that contain custard, cream fillings or dairy products. Use sturdy packaging to ensure quality and avoiding damage to the contents. When wrapping baked goods, cool completely before packaging. Foods packed warm may condense in the package and cause sogginess or mold growth. Pack the container tightly with paper or packing material so contents do not shift. 

If you receive a package that is marked “KEEP REFRIGERATED,” open it immediately. Check to make sure food is partially frozen with ice crystals or cold to the touch. If perishable food is warm, do not consume. It is the shipper’s responsibility to deliver the food on time and the customer’s responsibility to have someone at home to receive the package. Review each company’s guidelines for refunds.

Everyone loves getting packages in the mail, especially food.  Michigan State University Extension recommends following these simple but important guidelines will ensure that the contents of these food packages will be safe and enjoyable.

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