KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Many people want the gifts they send to be a surprise, but if you’re sending perishable food this holiday season, it’s better to spoil the surprise than risk spoiling the gift.

“Pack it safely, mark it clearly and be sure to notify the recipient when to expect delivery,” says Londa Nwadike, food safety specialist for University of Missouri Extension and Kansas State University Research and Extension. “Some of the best holiday gifts come from our own kitchens, but don’t take a chance on your food going to waste or making someone sick.”

Perishable foods will stay at a safe temperature longer if frozen solid first, Nwadike said. Once it’s completely frozen, pack your food with a cold source such as dry ice or a frozen gel pack.

Sweet foods like fruitcakes, candy, jams and jellies can be shipped at room temperature and seldom pose health problems, as the sugar and other preservatives usually postpone deterioration, she said. Cheesecake and similar products are the exception in the dessert category. They must stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent spoilage. Make sure they are shipped frozen solid and are refrigerated upon arrival.

Check with your post office for the recommended shipping option and the best method of packing your food gift to ensure safety and quality.

“Perishable foods need to arrive as soon as possible, preferably overnight,” Nwadike said. “Notify the recipient and make sure someone will be home to receive the package on the expected delivery date. Don’t have a perishable item delivered to an office unless you know someone will be there to refrigerate or freeze it upon arrival, and that refrigerator or freezer space is available for keeping it cold.”

For packing, use a sturdy box of heavy foam or corrugated cardboard. 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 quicker.

“Perishables have a much better chance of surviving if properly labeled,” Nwadike added. Mark the package “keep refrigerated” and list the contents on the outside of the package. Include instructions inside the box on proper storage.

Going retail

For peace of mind or to make a last-minute deadline, you might want to buy food gifts through a mail-order company whose business is to ship food products quickly and safely. Many Missouri farms and food businesses will ship food gifts as well; some of these businesses are listed at

When ordering food gifts, find out what type of cold source the company uses with perishable food and how long the package will be in transit. The cold source must last long enough for the food to arrive still frozen, or firm and cold. Ideally, the item will be shipped overnight. The package should be labeled “keep refrigerated” and include information on proper arrival temperature and storage. Make sure someone will be available to accept delivery of the gift and refrigerate or freeze it immediately.

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