COLLEGE STATION – As the holidays approach, people sending or receiving perishable food items as gifts need to be aware of how to best keep them safe from foodborne bacteria, said Texas AgriLife Extension Service experts.
“Meat, poultry, fish and other perishable foods need to be handled carefully and in a timely manner in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, which could cause foodborne illness,” said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Bexar County.
She said shipping perishable foods requires proper packaging, timely delivery and adequate in-transit and after-receipt refrigeration.
Shipped foods must arrive cold, either frozen, partially frozen or at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower, explained Jenna Anding, AgriLife Extension program leader for nutrition and food sciences in College Station.
“Because of this, perishable foods should be shipped overnight,” Anding said. “If at all possible, make arrangements with the intended recipient to ensure someone will be home when the package arrives. It should be opened as soon as possible to check the temperature and overall condition of the contents. Then, if they’re okay, you should immediately put them into the refrigerator or freezer.”
When ordering a food product for shipment, ask how the company packages their product to keep it cold during delivery, Sheppard said. And ask them for realistic shipping and delivery dates.
“Perishable food gifts that are not cold upon arrival should not be eaten, she said. “Instead, notify the sender, so they can decide what to do about replacing it,” she said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Sheppard said foods being shipped should be packaged in foam or heavy cardboard and kept cold using a frozen gel pack or dry ice.
She said foods prepared at home may also be shipped to friends and family, but additional care is needed with these foods.
“It’s best to not ship home-processed meats or cheeses because it’s difficult to know if these might contain something that can promote the growth of harmful bacteria,” Sheppard said.
“When preparing homemade foods, be sure your hands and preparation surfaces are clean and keep different foods away from one another to avoid cross-contamination,” Sheppard said. “Once you are ready to ship the foods, make sure the items are frozen solid or at least refrigerator-cold prior to shipping. Pack in an insulated cooler or heavy cardboard box with a frozen gel pack.”
Sheppard said when using dry ice instead of a gel pack, avoid letting it directly touch hands or food items.
“It’s also a good idea to let the recipient know the box contains dry ice as well,” she said. “Wrap the box in two layers of brown paper and mark that it contains something perishable that needs refrigerating.”
Sheppard also suggested not sending packages containing perishable foods at the end of the week as delivery may be delayed.
“It’s usually better to send food gifts to someone’s home,” she said. “If sent to a workplace, the food may accidentally be left at the office or in the trunk or back seat of the car.”
Anding added that those concerned perishable foods will not arrive at their destination sufficiently cold might instead consider sending different food items such as jerky, dried nuts or fruit, or hard candies.
“Baked foods such as cookies and fruit cake are good options too,” she said.
For additional information visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_120607_01/index.asp.