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Safety tips for mail-order food

With the holiday season approaching, mail-order foods are a popular, convenient gift. However, ordering foods through the mail can bring about concerns relating to food safety, shelf life and distribution. It is important to know how both food and packaging should look when perishable mail-order foods arrive. This is especially true for meat, poultry, fish and other perishable foods that must be carefully handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness.

The following tips will help both the purchaser and the recipient determine if their perishable foods have been handled properly.


* Be sure the company sends perishable items cold or frozen and packed with a cold source such as frozen gel packs or dry ice. They should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.

* The food should be delivered as quickly as possible - ideally, overnight. Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled "refrigerate on arrival and keep refrigerated" to alert the recipient of that need.

* If you are the recipient of a food item, open it immediately and check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen, partially frozen or at least refrigerator cold ? below 40 F as tested with a food thermometer. Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum packed or fully cooked, it is still a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives above 40 F, notify the company. Do not consume or even taste the food.

* If you are the gift giver, alert the recipient that the gift is in the mail so someone can be there to receive it. 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.

  Many people enjoy cooking and sending family-favorite foods. The same rules also apply to foods prepared and mailed from home.

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