Sending Gifts of Food

Gifts of food are popular choices, partially because one size fits all. However, even the convenience of "one size fits all" is a bad investment if the gift is spoiled on arrival or spoils before it can be properly cared for or consumed.

While food shipped by mail-order companies enjoy an excellent safety record, hazards can and do exist. Delays in shipment may allow frozen items to thaw and spoil before arrival. Even if the package arrives safely at the doorstep, unless someone is there to take care of it, it still may spoil before it is discovered.

Protect Yourself

You can protect yourself against these mishaps by knowing what to look for when sending and receiving gifts of food. USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline (800-535-4555) recommends these safety tips when sending and receiving perishable items.

  • If you`re ordering a gift to be sent from a mail-order company, ask how the gift will be packaged and mailed. It should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard. If it`s perishable, it needs to be packed ice cold or frozen with a cold source, such as dry ice or a frozen gel pack. It also should be labeled "Keep Refrigerated" and mailed with overnight delivery.
  • Make sure any mail-order item of an unusual nature comes with storage and preparation instructions. Nothing is worse than to open a package from Aunt Millie that you know is food, but you`re not sure if it`s safe or even what to do with it.
  • If you`re packing your own perishable food gift, freeze solid first, then pack as recommended above for mail order companies. Be sure to fill any empty spaces in the packing box with crushed paper or foam "popcorn;" airspaces encourage thawing. Also, label: "Perishable-Keep Refrigerated."
  • Regardless of how it`s sent, alert the recipient of the expected delivery date so they or a neighbor can be home to receive the gift. Otherwise it may sit unsafely on the doorstep or at the post office for hours or even days. Don`t have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there`s refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.
  • If you receive a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated," open it immediately and check its temperature. Ideally, the food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator-cold to the touch.
  • If perishable food arrives warm, notify the company if you think you or the sender deserves a refund. Do not consume the food. Remember, however, it`s the shipper`s responsibility to deliver perishable foods on time; it`s the customer`s responsibility to have someone at home the receive the package.
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable items immediately upon receipt. Even if a product is partially defrosted, it`s generally safe to refreeze, although there may be some loss in quality.
  • Keep your family`s foods and those you send friends and family safe during the holiday. Remember to keep perishable foods frozen when sending them.

Further Information

To learn more about safe food handling or food safety programs, contact the Wyoming/Teton County Food Safety Coalition, 307-739-9119. The Wyoming Food Safety Coalition is collaborative effort of:

  • The University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service
  • Wyoming Beef Council
  • Wyoming Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health
  • Wyoming Environmental Health Association
  • The Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association

Adapted from: Tips on Sending and Receiving Gifts of Food, CSU-Cooperative Extension.