Make Sure Food Gifts Arrive Safely
by Nancy Peterson

In the United States, mail order food sales have climbed to nearly $6 billion annually. The edible gifts can simplify holiday shopping. There are, however, a few tips that can ensure safety for gift givers and recipients, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension rapid response coordinator, who offered these tips:

  • Choose a reputable source.

    "Previous experience, either through ordering a gift or receiving one, can be helpful. So can comparison shopping and asking questions, like: How is the food packaged - [in] heavy cardboard, [or] insulated container? How will a package will be shipped? What happens if the recipient isn't home? And, what happens if food quality and safety has been compromised in the delivery process? For example, what if cold foods are warm to the touch?" Blakeslee said.

    If unsure about a gift source, checking a Website (maintained by the Direct Marketing Association) that lists reliable mail order food sources can be helpful. While the listing is not to be considered a recommendation, it does reflect reliability. The site can be accessed at, she said.

  • Order early in the month, and early in the week.

    It can, for example, be better to send a gift early, rather than wait until the last minute when delivery may be compromised. Ordering early in the week also may offer more delivery options.

    If there is a choice of delivery options, choosing same day or overnight service is recommended for perishable foods, said Blakeslee, who noted that less perishable foods, like gourmet coffees and teas, some cheese and sausage gift packs, and fruitcakes usually don't require more expensive shipping options, such as overnight service.

  • Notify the recipient that a perishable gift is on the way.

    "Alerting a recipient allows them to make arrangements for receiving a perishable gift, such as picking up the package if the recipient knows that he or she will not be home, or arranging for a neighbor to accept it," Blakeslee said.

    Sending a perishable gift to an office is not recommended - most offices don't have provisions for employees to refrigerate - or freeze - foods.

  • Open gifts of food promptly.

    Non-perishable foods, such as a box of teas, can wait until other gifts are opened. More perishable foods - like a box of steaks or a gourmet cheesecake - need to be removed from shipping containers and placed in the refrigerator or freezer immediately.

    If a package is labeled 'Shipped with dry ice', wear gloves when unpacking it; keep the dry ice and other packing materials out of reach of children and pets. Follow package directions for safe disposal.

    Foods that should be frozen should still have visible ice crystals; foods that should be cold, should still be cold. If frozen foods are thawed, or cold foods are warm to the touch, do not eat them. Call the company, report the condition upon arrival, and make arrangements for discarding the damaged foods and receiving a replacement shipment.
As with other gifts, it's always nice to let the gift-giver know that a gift has arrived safely, Blakeslee said.

Make Sending Homemade Gifts Easier, Too

Receiving a box of holiday cookies, candy or other food, like quick bread made from a family recipe, can make a much-appreciated gift. Recommendations for mailing homemade foods are similar to mail-ordered foods, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension rapid response coordinator, who offered these reminders:
  • Skip fragile foods. For example, bar cookies usually are less fragile than cut-out sugar cookies; quick breads are likely to travel better than pastry.

  • Package food gifts in air-tight containers, like re-sealable plastic bags, plastic containers or tins. Add crushed paper or bubble-wrap to cushion (and insulate) containers within a larger shipping container.

  • Alert the recipient that a gift of food is being sent; tell them also how - and when - you are shipping it.

  • Choose a priority or overnight delivery service.

  • Plan to mail or ship early in the week, so that gifts won't sit awaiting delivery over the weekend.
"If traveling and planning to take food for a potluck or other occasion, volunteer to provide non-perishable food products that travel well. Or, offer support other than a gift of food, such as contributing to the cost of the meal," Blakeslee said.

Nancy Peterson
K-State Research and Extension

For more information: Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673

K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus in Manhattan.