From One Home to Another…

…how to get your homemade foods to loved ones’ homes.

Chances are that you have someone on your gift list that doesn’t live in your home, or even in your neighborhood, city, or state. But if you’ve made amazing food products then you probably want to share them with everyone you love- including those who are far away! You might have concerns not only about proper packaging, but also about food safety and shelf life. So, a few mail order tips for you to keep in mind, from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:

Jams, jellies, and pickles will last a year if unopened, so the major concern is proper padding in shipping packages so that no containers break open. Remember to mark the package as “Fragile”.

If your homemade goodies have a suggested shorter shelf life, be sure to tell the recipient. For example, whether unopened or opened, dried fruits are recommended to be consumed within one month at room temperature, and six months if kept refrigerated.

If you’re dealing with perishable food items, then you’ve got more immediate food safety concerns. Ideally, send items as quickly as you can and mail them with overnight delivery. Let your lucky recipients know that the gift is on its way, and label packages with “Keep Refrigerated” to remind them. Send packages at the beginning of the week (or at least not the end of it) so that they do not sit in the mailing facility over a weekend.

Most meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products (like cheesecake, yum) are especially perishable and must be handled in a timely manner or else the risk of foodborne illness is very high. Generally, these items must be packed cold or frozen, packaged with a cold source (frozen gel packs or dry ice), and boxed in corrugated cardboard. If meat or poultry arrives at higher than 40°F, as measured with a food thermometer, then it should not be eaten. 40°F to 140°F is the “Danger Zone” for perishable foods, because if they are held at in this temperature range for longer than two hours, then dangerous pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly.

Some meat and dairy products are exceptions, and do not require refrigeration when properly packaged and unopened. These items include hard salami, hard cheese, and country ham.

If you have more questions, whether you be the sender or the recipient, contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline with questions about meat, poultry, or egg products: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), or the FDA Outreach and Information Center with questions about any other foods: 1-888-723-3366.

The information in this entry comes from the Mail Order Food Safety Factsheet by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.