Everyone loves getting packages in the mail. Sometimes they are gifts of food - either homemade or from mail order. When it's baked goods or shelf-stable canned items, the lucky recipient usually knows how to tell about its safety and what to do with it. But what about smoked turkeys, cheese and sausage gift packs, and other perishable items? Whether you are giving or receiving, there are some food safety tips you need to keep in mind for these special gifts.
Ask the company how the food will be mailed. If it's a perishable item, it should be delivered as quickly as possible - ideally, overnight. Make sure perishable items and other outer packages are labelled "KEEP REFRIGERATED" to alert the recipient.
Will the food item come with storage and preparation instructions? Some mail order food gift items are of an unusual nature and some consumers may not know how to handle or prepare them.
Tell the recipient if the company has promised a delivery date. Or alert the recipient that "the gift is in the mail" so that they or a neighbour can be home to receive it. Otherwise it may sit unsafely on the front porch 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 a refrigerator for keeping it cold.
When you receive a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated", open it immediately and check its temperature. Optimally, 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 deserve a refund. Do not consume the food. But remember, it's the shipper's responsibility to deliver perishable foods on time; the customer's responsibility to have someone at home to receive the package.
When you receive a food item marked “Keep Refrigerated”, open it immediately and check its temperature. Optimally, the food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible, or at lest, refrigerator cold to the touch. If perishable food arrives warm, notify the company if you think you deserve a refund. Do not consume the food. But remember, it’s the shipper’s responsibility to deliver perishable foods on time; the customer’s responsibility to have someone at home to receive the package.
Refrigerator or freeze perishable items immediately. Even if a product is partially defrosted it is safe to freeze it, although there may be a slight loss of quality.
Perishable foods will stay at a safe temperature longest if frozen solid first. After frozen, pack your food gift with a cold source such as a frozen gel or purchased dry ice.
Pack your frozen food and cold source in a sturdy box, such as heavy foam or corrugated cardboard. Fill up any empty space with crushed paper or foam "popcorn". Air space in the box will cause the food and cold source to thaw faster.
Your package should be clearly labelled “Perishable – Keep Refrigerated”. As in “Tips for the Purchaser”, above, arrange a delivery date with the recipient. Ship your package by overnight delivery.
Whether it’s off to school or work we go, millions carry “bag” lunches. Food brought from home can be kept safe if it is handled and cooked safely. Then, perishable food must be kept cold while commuting via bus, bicycle, on foot, in a car, or on the subway. After arriving at school or work, perishable food must be kept cold until lunchtime.
Why keep food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “danger zone” – the temperature between 40° and 140°F. So, perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long. Here are safe handling recommendations to prevent foodborne illness from “bag” lunches.
Perishable food, such as raw or cooked meat and poultry, must be kept cold or frozen at the store and at home. Eggs should be purchased cold at the store and kept cold at home. In between, transport perishable food as fast as possible when no ice source is available. At the destination, it must be kept cold. Food should not be left out at room temperature more than 2 hours (1 hours if the temperature is above 90°F)
Prepackaged combos that contain luncheon meats along with crackers, cheese and condiments must also be kept refrigerated. This includes meats and smoked ham which are cured or contain preservatives.
Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. A solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water maybe used to sanitize surfaces and utensils. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters.
Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and countertops. Always use a clean cutting board. When using a cutting board for food that will not be cooked, such as bread, lettuce and tomatoes, be sure to wash the board after using it to cut raw meat and poultry. Use on cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for meat and poultry.
At lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contain other food and cause foodborne illness.
Pack just the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunch. That way, there won’t be a problem about the storage or safety of leftovers.
It’s fine to prepare the food the night before and store the packed lunch in the refrigerator. Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. However, for best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce or tomatoes. Add these later.
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxed or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxed and paper bags can also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food. An ice source should be packed with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box.
Prepare cooked food, such as turkey, ham, chicken and vegetable or pasta salads, ahead of time to allow for thorough chilling in the refrigerator. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Keep cooked food refrigerated until time to leave home.
To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Of course, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival.
Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include fruits, vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut jelly, mustard and pickles.
Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chilli and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot - 140°F or above.
Your package should be clearly labelled "Perishable - Keep Refrigerated". As in "Tips for the Purchaser" above, arrange a delivery date with the recipient. Ship your package by overnight delivery.