Convenience means different things to different people; to many it means saving time. Food delivered by mail is a popular, convenient gift idea. Because ordering food through the mail may cause concern about food safety, it’s imperative to develop some mental checklists for how both food and packaging should look when it arrives. This is especially true for perishable foods that must be handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness. You’d hate for your gift to make one of your loved ones sick!
The following will help determine if the foods have been handled properly. This information is courtesy of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Nutrition and Health Families Extension program.
• Make sure the company meets state or federal requirements for mail delivery.
• Make sure the company sends perishable foods with a cold source, such as dry ice.
• Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled “Keep Refrigerated” to alert the recipient. Food should be delivered as quickly as possible – ideally, overnight.
• Open packaged food marked “Keep Refrigerated” immediately and check temperature of items: • The food should arrive frozen or with ice crystals still visible or refrigerator cold—below 41°F as measured with a calibrated 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 41°F, notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food. Responsible companies will reimburse you or send another package.
• 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 to keep it cold.
If mail order foods arrive in a questionable condition, the following organizations can provide help.
• USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline, weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (1-888-674-6854) (meat, poultry, and egg products)
• FDA Outreach and Information Center 1-888-723-3366 weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)