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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Web Content Viewer (JSR 286)

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Mail Order Food Safety

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.

While the mail order industry enjoys a good safety record, ordering food through the mail may cause concerns about food safety, shelf life, and distribution. It's imperative to develop some mental checklists for how both food and packaging should look when perishable mail order foods arrive. This is especially true for meat, poultry, fish, and other perishable foods such as cheesecake, which must be carefully handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness.

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 or at least refrigerator cold—below 40 °F as measured with a 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 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer—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 refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.

Americans also enjoy cooking foods that are family favorites and mailing these items to family and friends. The same rules that cover the mail order industry also apply to foods prepared and mailed from home. Make sure perishable foods are not held at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, the "Danger Zone", for longer than 2 hours. Pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly in the "Danger Zone", but they may not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. In other words, you cannot tell that a food has been mishandled or is unsafe to eat.

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 addresses 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.


Miniature deep freeze packaging
Use the handy chart, compiled by the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline and FDA Outreach and Information Center, to plan your purchase, send a home-prepared item, and store popular mail order foods.

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

  • USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline, weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET (1-888-674-6854)
    (meat, poultry, and egg products)
  • FDA Outreach and Information Center 1 (888) 723-3366 weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET
    (any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)
  • Direct Marketing Association, Consumer Affairs Department, 1615 L Street NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20036

    Direct Marketing Association (DMA) 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 complaints with DMA by writing to the above address or e-mailing to Consumer@the-DMA.org; phone calls are not accepted.

    Consumers requesting assistance through DMA should include the 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.

    DMA will refer the letter to the company on the consumer's behalf and ask that the company resolve the matter. The majority of DMA complaints are resolved successfully within a 30-day period.

Safe Handling of Mail Order Foods

These short but safe time limits will help keep refrigerated foods from spoiling or becoming unsafe to eat. Because freezing keeps food safe indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only.

N/A - not advisable

Safe Handling of Mail Order Foods
Food
Item
Condition Upon Arrival STORAGE
Pantry
STORAGE
Refrigerator 40 °F
STORAGE
Freezer 0°F
Meats
Beef and Lamb; steaks and roasts Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 3-5 days 1 year
Game Birds Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 1-2 days 1 year
Pork, chops, and roasts Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 3-5 days 6 months
Turkey—smoked, cooked Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 7 days 6 months
Turkey—whole, uncooked Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 1-2 days 1 year
Ham—country Room temperature 1 year Sliced, 2-3 months 1 month
Ham—whole, fully cooked Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 7 days 1-2 months
Ham—canned, labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Refrigerator cold N/A 6-9 months unopened;
7 days opened
1-2 months opened
Ham—canned, shelf stable Room temperature 2 years 3-4 days opened 1-2 months opened
Ham—fully cooked, vacuum sealed at plant, undated, unopened Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 2 weeks 1-2 months
Ham—fully cooked, vacuum sealed at plant, dated, unopened Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A Use by date 1-2 months
Sausage—dry fermented, not labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Room temperature 4 -6 weeks 6 months unopened;
2-3 weeks opened
1-2 months
Sausage—Summer, not labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Room temperature 4-6 weeks 6 months unopened; 2-3 weeks opened 1-2 months
Sausage—Summer, labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 3 months unopened;
3 weeks opened
1-2 months
Frozen entrees—meat or vegetable Frozen N/A 3-4 days after cooking 2-3 months, cook frozen
Seafood
Caviar—non-pasteurized (fresh)
 
Refrigerator cold N/A 6 months unopened;
2 days opened
Do not freeze
Caviar—pasteurized, vacuum package Room temperature Refrigerate upon arrival 1 year unopened Do not freeze
Hors d'Oeuvres / Pastries Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 3-4 days after cooking 3 months
Lobster—live Alive in sea water N/A 1-2 days, alive Do not freeze
Salmon—smoked, clear vacuum package (e.g., Nova Lox) Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 7 days unopened;
2 days opened
2 months
Salmon—vacuum packaged, and/or labeled "Keep Refrigerated" Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 7 days unopened;
2 days opened
2 months
Salmon—smoked, heavy metallic pouch in outer cardboard container, shelf stable Room temperature 1 year unopened 2 days opened N/A
Frozen entrees—seafood Frozen N/A 2 days after thawing 1 year
Cheese Products
Cheese—soft (e.g., cream cheese) Refrigerator cold N/A 2 weeks opened N/A
Cheese—processed or hard Safe at room temperature, but refrigeration prolongs quality N/A 3-6 months unopened;
3-4 months opened;
2 weeks sliced
small pieces
6 months
Cheesecake Frozen or refrigerator cold N/A 7 days 3 months
Fruit Products
Fruit—fresh whole* Refrigerator cold or room temperature *Fruit storage varies by type. After refrigerating, store from 3 days to 3 weeks; prepared for freezing, fruits can be frozen for up to 1 year.
Fruit—dried Room temperature 1 month 6 months after opened N/A
Fruit Cakes / Plum Pudding Cold or room temperature 1 month, quality better if refrigerated or frozen 6 months 1 year
Fruit / Nut Breads Cold or room temperature N/A 7 days 6 months
Other
Frosted cakes, layered tortes, petit fours Frozen or refrigerator cold 2 days 3 days 2 months
Chocolate candy / other confections Cold or room temperature 1 year 1 year 1 year
Jams / Jellies Room temperature 12 months unopened 6 months N/A
Pickles, pickled vegetables Room temperature 1 year 2 months opened N/A
Olives Room temperature 1 year 2 weeks N/A
Oil, olive or vegetable Room temperature 6 months unopened;
3 months opened
N/A N/A
Oils, nut Room temperature 6 months unopened 4 months opened N/A
Vinegar Room temperature 2 years unopened; 1 year opened N/A N/A
Mustard Room temperature 1 year unopened; 1 month opened 1 year opened N/A
Honey Room temperature 1 year N/A N/A
Pure Maple Syrup Room temperature 2 years unopened 1 year opened N/A
Nuts—cans, jars, or cellophane Room temperature 1 year unopened 6 months opened 1 year opened
Tea—Bags
 
Room temperature 18 months N/A N/A
Tea—Loose Room temperature 2 years N/A N/A
Tea—Instant Room temperature 3 years N/A N/A
Coffee—Whole beans, non-vacuum bag Room temperature 1-3 weeks 2 weeks 3-4 months
Coffee—Ground, in can Room temperature 2 years 2 weeks 3-4 months
Coffee—Instant, jars, & tins Room temperature 1 year unopened; 2-3 months opened 2 weeks 3-4 months

 

Last Modified Mar 30, 2015