Mailing Holiday Treats Safely


Convenience means many things to many people, but anything that helps save time is always high on everyone's list of conveniences. With more Americans working and being more time-crunched than ever, the ultimate time saver and convenience is home delivery of mail order foods.

  • The following food safety tips will help the purchaser and recipient determine if their perishable foods have been handled properly:  Make sure the company sends perishable items, like meat or poultry, cold or frozen and packed with a cold source. It should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard. 
  • The food should be delivered as quickly as possible--ideally, overnight. Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled "Keep Refrigerated" to alert the recipient. When you receive a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated," open it immediately and check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible. Even if a product is smoked, cured, and/or fully cooked, it is still a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm, notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food.
  • Tell the recipient if the company has promised a 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 work day and there is a refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.

Americans also enjoy cooking foods that are family favorites and mailing these items to family and friends. For perishable foods prepared at home and mailed, follow these guidelines:

  • Ship in a sturdy box
  • Pack with a cold source, i.e., 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.
  • Use recommended packing tape.
  • Label outside clearly; make sure address is complete and correct.
  • Write "Keep Refrigerated" on outside of the box.
  • Alert recipient of its expected arrival.
  • Do not send to business address 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.
  • Whenever possible, send foods that do not require refrigeration, e.g., hard salami, hard cheese, country ham.

If mail order foods arrive in a questionable condition, you may contact the following organizations for help:

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
(meat, poultry, and egg products) 1 (800) 535-4555
weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET

FDA Outreach and Information Center
(any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)
1 (888) 723-3366 weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET

Mail Order Action Line
Direct Marketing Association,
1111 19 th Street, Suite 1100,
Washington DC 20036

MOAL is a free consumer service sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association and acts as an intermediary between consumers and direct marketing companies to resolve complaints on a timely basis. Consumers may register complaints with MOAL by writing to the above address; phone calls are not accepted. Include complete name and address of the company involved in the complaint, photocopies (not originals) of any canceled checks, order forms, other relevant documents, and a letter summarizing the facts of the complaint.


Fresh Fruit
Should arrive refrigerator cold or room temperature.
Different types of fruit can be stored for about 1 to 2 weeks in the pantry or refrigerator, or frozen for up to 1 year.

Dried Fruit
Should arrive room temperature.
Can be stored up to 1 month.

Fruit Cakes/Plum Pudding
Should arrive cold or room temperature.
Can be stored 1 month; quality better if refrigerated or frozen

Fruit/Nut Breads
Should arrive cold or room temperature.

Chocolate candy/other confections
Should arrive cold or room temperature.
Can be stored up to 1 year.

Nuts - (in cans, jars, or cellophane)
Should arrive room temperature. 
Can be stored up to 1 year unopened

Coffee (whole beans, non-vacuum bag) 
Should arrive room temperature.
Can be stored 1 - 3 weeks.