Avoid Disaster with Perishable Gifts

Because many people send – and receive – holiday gifts of food, it’s important to follow a few basic guidelines to prevent food-borne illnesses and to ensure that gifts arrive in the best condition. Colorado State Cooperative Extension offers the following tips for safe, attractive holiday food gifts.

When receiving or sending perishables as holiday gifts, remember that:

  • Fresh or cooked meat, poultry and fish should arrive completely frozen or at least still hard in the middle. If the food has never been frozen, the meat should be cold to the touch.
  • Baked hams and most canned hams should have been refrigerated en route to the destinations and should arrive cold.
  • Some hard, dry sausages, such as pepperoni and hard salamis, don’t need refrigeration. Others, such as summer sausage, do. If the label says it should be refrigerated, the sausage should arrive cold.
  • Fresh caviar must arrive carefully packed and thoroughly cold. Otherwise, don’t even taste it. Canned caviar ordinarily only requires refrigeration after opening.
  • Cheese should arrive without mold, except when natural, such as blue mold on blue cheese.
  • Cheesecake is highly perishable and should arrive fully frozen.

Following are additional suggestions to keep in mind before choosing food gifts to send to others.

  • Date or fig bars and coconut squares, fruitcake, pound cake or spice cake mail well. Layer cakes crumble. Pour-on icings help cakes retain moisture. Fruit breads or gingerbreads also mail well, but yeast breads do not. Hard candy, such as peanut brittle or rock candy, ship better than fudge or divinity.
  • If unsure about how well a food will ship, test it first. Put the food in a container and shake it a few times. If it holds its shape, it should mail well.
  • If possible, bake products – such as bread and cakes – in the shipping container such as a foil or aluminum pan, or consider sending a new baking pan as part of the gift.
  • Most round or bar cookies can be packed in a coffee can. Other sturdy containers that are appropriate for mailing food include metal cake boxes, rigid plastic freezer containers and metal canisters.
  • When shipping food in a baking container, follow the recipe’s directions for cooling. When the food has cooled thoroughly, cover it in plastic wrap and return it to a cleaned baking container. Wrap food well in freezer foil or plastic wrap before placing in the shipping box. Individually wrap each bar, cookie or piece of candy in plastic to help the food retain shape and moisture.
  • Select strong cardboard boxes for shipping. Cushion the sides and bottom of the container with crumpled tissue or newspaper. After placing the food containers on top of the paper, pad the top with more crumpled paper. Securely tape the box and label as food or perishable.
  • When mailing food or sending food, or having food sent to someone through a third party, such as a catalog order, call the recipient and schedule a delivery date. Tell them they are receiving a perishable surprise so they’ll know to store the gift in a cool place and open it in time.