Monday, November 28, 2011

Myth: Ordering perishable food through the mail ensures it is safe to eat.

Answer: BUSTED!

Ah…Cyber Monday. Visions of foods ordered online dance in our heads. But when purchasing or receiving food gifts, there are a few things to double check to ensure the food will be safe to eat:
  1. Ordering perishable food? Make sure it is packed cold in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard. Overnight shipping is best to ensure that it remains cold.
  2. A perishable item should be labeled “Keep refrigerated” on the package. When you receive it, open it right away and check its temperature. It should be frozen, partially frozen with ice crystals or the temperature should be 40 degrees or colder by a food thermometer. Smoked, cured or vacuum-packed foods all need to be kept cold. If the food you received is above 40 degrees, don’t eat it! Notify the company. Other places that can help you if you receive perishable food that isn’t cold: the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET; FDA Outreach and Information Center 1-888-723-3366, weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET (any foods other than meat, poultry and egg products).
Shipping box with baked good
If you are shipping perishable food to someone, here are a few tips:
  • Ship it when you know someone will be there to receive it and refrigerate it.
  • Use a sturdy box to ship and use a cold source – frozen gel packs or dry ice.
  • Write “Keep refrigerated” on the outside of the box.

For more information on how to pack perishable items, see Mail Order Food Safety on the USDA website.

This chart, also on the USDA website, will give you some safe time limits when shipping or receiving perishable foods.

For more information on food safety, visit the MissouriFamilies website.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

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