In today’s busy world, one time-saver some individuals use is home delivery of mail order foods. Ordering food through the mail raises concerns about food safety. It is important to know how food and the packaging should look when perishable foods—such as meat, poultry, fish, and other perishable items—arrive.
How to determine if foods have been handled properly:
- Perishable items should arrive cold or frozen and packed with a cold source, in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.
- Food should be delivered as quickly as possible—ideally, overnight. Perishable items and the outer package should be labeled “Keep Refrigerated.”
- When you receive a food item marked “Keep Refrigerated,” open it immediately and insert a food thermometer in the food to be sure the temperature is below 40°F. Food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator-cold. Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum packed, and/or fully cooked, it is still a perishable product and must be kept cold. If a perishable item arrives above 40°F, as measured with a food thermometer, do not consume or even taste the suspect food.
- You cannot tell that food has been mishandled or is unsafe to eat by tasting, smelling, or looking at it. Make sure perishable foods are not held at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F for longer than two hours. Bacteria grow rapidly in this “Danger Zone.”
Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Convenience means different things to different people; to many it means saving time. Food delivered by mail is a popular, convenient gift idea. Because ordering food through the mail may cause concern about food safety, it’s imperative to develop some mental checklists for how both food and packaging should look when it arrives. This is especially true for perishable foods that must be handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness.
The following will help determine if the foods have been handled properly.
- Make sure the company meets state or federal requirements for mail delivery.
- Make sure the company sends perishable foods with a cold source, such as dry ice.
- Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled “Keep Refrigerated” to alert the recipient. Food should be delivered as quickly as possible – ideally, overnight.
- Open packaged food marked “Keep Refrigerated” immediately and check temperature of items:
- The food should arrive frozen or with ice crystals still visible or refrigerator cold—below 41°F as measured with a calibrated food thermometer.
- Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold.
- If perishable food arrives warm — above 41°F, notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food. Responsible companies will reimburse you or send another package.
- Don’t have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available to keep it cold.
If mail order foods arrive in a questionable condition, the following organizations can provide help.
- USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline, weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (1-888-674-6854) (meat, poultry, and egg products)
- FDA Outreach and Information Center 1-888-723-3366 weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)