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Be there in spirit by safely sending holiday foods

22 December 2020, at 1:00am

COVID-19 is keeping 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.

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“Everyone likes to get gifts of food, especially homemade or specialty foods,” said Londa Nwadike, extension food safety specialist for the University of Missouri and Kansas State University.

When sending a food gift, pack it safely, mark it clearly and tell the recipient that it’s on the way, Nwadike said.

“Although you may want the gift to be a surprise, you should notify the recipient and make sure someone will be home to receive it on the expected delivery date,” she said. That’s especially important for perishable items to ensure that your gifts don’t go to waste because they sat in a mailbox or on a porch too long.

Nwadike says sending your blueberry preserves, 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.

The risk of getting COVID-19 from eating food 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.

Keep perishables pleasing

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.

“For packing, use a sturdy box made of heavy foam or corrugated cardboard,” Nwadike said. “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. Include instructions for the recipient on proper temperature and storage inside the box.

Going retail

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

Don’t hesitate to ask companies how they keep perishable food cold in transit, and if their boxes are clearly marked “keep refrigerated” and include 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, she said.

There are exceptions, however. Cheesecake and similar foods must stay cold (under 40 F/5 C) 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 enhances 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, visit extension.missouri.edu/programs/food-safety.