CARROLLTON, Mo.- The gift of food can be a delightful part of the holidays. But there are many things to remember whether your taking the first bite or choosing a food item.
For one, perishable foods will stay at a safe temperature longer if frozen solid first. Once its completely frozen, its suggested to pack your food with a cold source such as dry ice or a frozen gel pack.
According to Londa Nwadike, food safety specialist with University of Missouri Extension, in the case of receiving a food gift, if the item is marked “keep refrigerated”, open right away and use a food thermometer to make sure the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible.
Sweet foods like fruitcakes, candy, jams and jellies can be shipped at room temperature and seldom pose health problems, as the sugar and other preservatives usually postpone deterioration. Cheesecake and similar products are the exception in the dessert category though as they must stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent spoilage.
Unless labeled otherwise, even most smoked or cooked meet requires refrigeration for safety, so it should be shipped with an ice source. If perishable mail-ordered food is above 40 degrees at arrival don’t eat or even taste it. Contact the company and follow its return police.
If your packing a holiday food gift use a sturdy box of heavy foam or corrugated cardboard. Use crushed newspaper or foam”peanuts” to help cushion the item and fill empty space. Air space in the box can cause the food and cold source to thaw quicker.
Lastly when ordering food gifts online, find out what type of cold source the company uses with perishable food and how long the package will be in transit. The cold source must last long enough for the food to arrive still frozen, or firm and cold. Ideally, the item will be shipped overnight.
“Mail-order food companies have an excellent safety record, but delays, breakage and failure of cold packing can happen.” said Nwadike. “That’s why it’s important to inspect food gifts when the arrive to make sure they’re in good condition.”
For more MU Extension resources on food safety go to missourifamilies.org/foodsafety and extension.missouri.edu/preservation