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Be There in Spirit by Safely Sending Holiday Foods
Missouri Ag Connection - 12/01/2020

COVID-19 will keep many from traveling to see friends and family for the holidays, but you can be there in spirit by sending your special homemade fudge to your mom or cookies to your favorite niece.

"Everyone likes to get gifts of food, especially homemade or specialty foods," said Londa Nwadike, extension associate professor in food safety at Kansas State University and the University of Missouri.

She advises, however, that when sending a food gift, to pack it safely, mark it clearly and notify the recipient that it's on the way. That's especially important for perishable items to ensure that your efforts don't go to waste because they sat in a mailbox or on a porch too long.

Sending your blueberry preserves or special salsa or summer sausage may be even more meaningful this year than usual since we've been encouraged to be apart for months. It's like sending a little part of you.

It is important to note that the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food and food packages is considered very low, Nwadike said. It is always important, though, for everyone to use good food safety and COVID-prevention practices including frequent hand washing.

Perishable foods will stay at a safe temperature longer if frozen solid first, Nwadike said. Once completely frozen, pack the food with a cold source, such as a frozen gel pack or dry ice.

The post office or shipping company may be able to recommend the best packing and shipping method to get perishables to their destinations as quickly as possible.

"Although you may want the gift to be a surprise, with perishable foods you should notify the recipient and make sure someone will be home to receive it on the expected delivery date," Nwadike said. "For packing, use a sturdy box made of heavy foam or corrugated cardboard. Use crushed newspaper or foam 'peanuts' to help cushion the item and fill empty space. Air space in the box can cause the food and cold source to thaw more quickly."

Mark the package "Keep Refrigerated" and list the contents on the outside of the package. Include instructions on proper temperature and storage inside the box for the recipient.

If time is short or your cooking or baking skills could use a little more refining, consider ordering mail order or online food gifts. With a range of food companies based in Kansas and Missouri alone, it's a way to support local businesses in this most challenging of years.

Don't be hesitant, however, to ask the company how they keep food cold in transit (if perishable) and if their boxes are clearly marked "keep refrigerated" and come with proper arrival and storage information for the recipient.

Sweet foods such as fruitcakes, candy, jams and jellies can be shipped at room temperature and seldom pose health problems, because the sugar and other preservatives generally postpone deterioration, Nwadike said.

There are exceptions, however, when it comes to cheesecake and similar foods, which must stay cold (under 40 degrees F) to prevent spoilage. Those foods should be shipped frozen with directions to refrigerate upon arrival.

The main thing, Nwadike said, is to enjoy the holidays and if sending a homemade or specially ordered food can enhance someone's day -- even if you can't be there -- then all the better.

More information about food safety, including food preservation and produce safety is available online or by checking with your local K-State Research and Extension office.

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