Subscription meal kits, mail order food, and home-delivered groceries offer convenience and can make for great holiday gifts. But, it’s important to make sure food safety is part of the gift.

Whether food is shipped to your home or delivered by a local service, it needs to stay at a safe temperature to prevent the growth of bacteria and other pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses.

Follow these tips from the USDA and CDC to keep you, your loved ones, and your friends safe and healthy this holiday season.

Gifting someone a food service?

Things to think about before ordering:

  • Ask questions first. Research companies and call customer service to ask about food safety standards. This is particularly important if you are buying the food for someone who is more likely to get food poisoning — adults 65 and older, children younger than age 5, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. 
  • Ask how the company responds if food is delivered at an unsafe temperature or is otherwise not safe to eat. Find out if the company provides information with each shipment on the safe handling and preparation of food, including cooking temperatures.
  • Arrange for delivery when someone is at home so food can be refrigerated quickly instead of being left outside until someone is at home. If you can’t be there in person, see if a neighbor can.
  • Find a safe space for delivery if no one will be at home when the food arrives. Food should be delivered to a cool, shaded, and secure location where pests and rodents won’t be able to get it. Let the company know where you would like them to leave your box.

Receiving a food delivery service?

Follow these tips:

  • Examine the box and packaging. When you get your delivery, look for stickers on the box that say “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen” if you ordered perishable food such as meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy. Make sure the company sent their perishable items cold or frozen and packed with a cold source inside foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.
  • The food should be delivered as quickly as possible.
  • When you receive a food item marked “Keep Refrigerated,” immediately check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold—below 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • All perishable products must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm, — above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer — notify the company. Do not consume or taste suspect food. Notify the company if food arrives above 40°F. Food can be unsafe and still taste, look, and smell OK. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Tell the recipient of your gift if the company has a promised delivery date. Or 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 workday and there is refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.
  • Refrigerate or freeze your delivery as soon as possible. Bacteria can multiply rapidly if food is kept in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F for more than two hours. After you have made sure that the food was delivered at a safe temperature, store it in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to prepare it.
  • Call federal food safety hotlines if you have questions about whether your food is safe to eat.

Sending a perishable food gift? 

Follow these guidelines:

  • Ship in a sturdy box.
  • Pack with a cold source — frozen gel packs or dry ice.
  • When using dry ice:
    • Don’t touch the dry ice with bare hands.
    • Don’t let it come in direct contact with food.
    • Warn the recipient of its use by writing “Contains Dry Ice” on the outside of the box.
  • Wrap box in two layers of brown paper.
  • Use permanent markers to label outside of the box. 
  • Label outside clearly; make sure the address is complete and correct.
  • Write “Keep Refrigerated” on outside of the box.
  • Alert recipient of its expected arrival.
  • Do not send to business addresses or where there will not be adequate refrigerator storage.
  • Do not send packages at the end of the week. Send them at the beginning of the week so they do not sit in the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.
  • If possible, send foods that do not require refrigeration — hard salami, hard cheese, country ham, and others.

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