Welcome to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
Food Safety at home podcast series. These podcasts were
designed with you in mind - the consumer - who purchases and
prepares meat, poultry and processed
egg products for your family and friends.
Each episode will bring you a different food safety topic ranging
from safe storage, handling, and preparation of meat, poultry
and processed egg products to the importance of keeping foods
safe during a power outage.
So sit back, turn up the volume and listen in.
Welcome to “Food Safety at Home.” This is Kathy Bernard with
the Food Safety and Inspection Service. I’m your host for this
segment. With me today is Larae Booker from Congressional and
Whether you purchase food by mail order or receive it as a
gift, you should be food safe when ordering or using the food.
Larae will give us some guidance on how to do just that.
Hello, Larae, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m pleased to be here.
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 in the workforce than ever before, we have
less time to get things done at home. One solution is home
delivery of mail order foods. Home delivery of mail order food
is a time saver, but it carries extra food safety considerations.
Larae, what is the first thing to consider when you decide
to order food by mail or when you receive it as a gift?
Well, if you plan to purchase food by mail order, have a mental
checklist of how the food and packaging should look when the
foods arrive. This is especially true for meat, poultry, fish,
and other perishable foods such as cheesecake. These foods
must be carefully handled in a timely manner to prevent you
or your family from getting a foodborne illness.
What are some of the things that the purchaser or recipient
can do to determine if their perishable mail order foods have
been handled safely?
There are several things you can do to determine if your perishable
foods are being handled safely.
* First, check how the food has been sent.
You can check to make sure that the company sends perishable
items like meat or poultry, cold or frozen and packed with
a cold source. The food should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated
* Second, check how soon the product will be delivered.
Check that the food will be delivered as quickly as possible
— ideally overnight. Make sure perishable items and the outer
package are labeled “Keep Refrigerated.”
* Third, check the temperature of the food.
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 or at least be refrigerator cold, which
is below 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Even if
a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked,
it’s still a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable
food arrives warm — above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer
— notify the company.
Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food.
* Fourth, if it’s a gift, alert the recipient.
If the mail order food is a gift, alert the recipient to the
company’s promised delivery date. Or you can alert the recipient
that the “gift’s in the mail,” so someone can be there to receive
it. Don’t have perishable items delivered to an office unless
you know for sure that it will arrive on a work day and that
there is a refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.
You’ve discussed mail order food that is purchased. Could you
also discuss perishable foods prepared and mailed from home?
Certainly, Kathy. Well, for perishable foods prepared at home
and mailed, follow these guidelines:
- First, ship the food in a sturdy box.
- Make sure you pack the food with a cold source, such
as 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 presence by writing “Contains
Dry Ice” on the outside of the box.
- Also, wrap the box in two layers of brown paper.
- Use a permanent marker to label the outside of the
box and make sure you use recommended packing tape.
- Label the outside of the box clearly; make sure the
address is complete and correct.
- Write “Keep Refrigerated” on the outside of the box.
- Alert the recipient of the mail order’s expected arrival.
- Do not send to business addresses or to a location
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 that they don’t sit in
the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.
- And finally, whenever possible, send foods that do
not require refrigeration such as hard salami, hard cheese
and country ham.
Okay, so the food has arrived. Do we follow the same food safety
guidelines that we use with foods prepared at home?
Make sure perishable foods are not held at temperatures above
40 °F for longer than 2 hours. Consumers can refer to the handy
chart “Safe Handling of Mail Order Foods” compiled by the USDA
Meat and Poultry Hotline and the FDA Outreach and Information
The chart can be found on the FSIS Web site. To access the
chart, visit our Web site at
the chart to plan your purchase, send a home-prepared item,
and store popular mail order foods.
What should I do if my mail order food arrives in questionable
There are several organizations that you can contact for help
if your mail order food arrives in a questionable condition.
They’re the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, the FDA Outreach
and Information Center and the Direct Marketing Association.
For questions about meat, poultry, and egg product mail order
foods, you may call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.
That’s 1-888-674-6854. You can also visit the FSIS Web site
For questions about any foods other than meat, poultry, and
egg product mail order foods, you can call the FDA Outreach
and Information Center at 1-888-723-3366.
Another source of information is the Direct Marketing Association,
Consumer Affairs Department. The Association offers a free
consumer service and acts as an intermediary between consumers
and direct marketing companies to resolve complaints on a timely
basis. Consumers may register their complaints by e-mail to
. The DMA does not accept phone calls.
That’s it for this week. Our guest this week has been Larae
Booker from Congressional and Public Affairs. Thank you, Larae,
for your timely advice on the safety of mail order food. I’m
Kathy Bernard and I’d like to thank you for joining us for
this episode of “Food Safety at Home.” And remember, “Be Food
Well, that’s all for this time. Thanks for joining us today
for another episode of food safety at home!
For answers to your food safety questions call USDA's toll-free
meat and poultry hotline at 1-888-mphotline. That’s 1-888-674-6854.
You can also get answers to food safety questions online from
our virtual representative "ask karen" at
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Thanks for tuning in.