WASHINGTON – Being home for the holidays will not be possible this year for many members of the American armed forces. The next best thing may be receiving greetings and gifts of food items.
The USDA offers advice for safely mailing food gifts to family members and friends serving in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
“I am sure that in addition to receiving letters from home, our men and women in the armed forces would appreciate food gifts,” said Susan Conley, with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
What to send. Mail food gifts that are not perishable, can tolerate a range of temperatures, and won’t break with rough handling.
Perishable foods are those that must be kept at 40 degrees or below to remain safe to eat – meat, poultry, fish, and soft cheeses, for example. These foods cannot be safely left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, much less for a week or more in the mail.
Foodborne bacteria that may be present on these foods grow fastest at temperatures above 40 degrees and can double every 20 minutes. When this happens, someone eating the food can get sick.
Food gifts that can be safely mailed include dried products such as jerky and fruits, shelf-stable canned specialties, and regional condiments such as hot sauces. Homemade cookies, candy, and low-moisture breads like fruitcake and bar cookies are also good candidates for mailing.
Mail order. As an alternative to homemade gifts, some families may wish to send a military member’s favorite mail order foods. Shelf-stable “summer sausage,” cheeses, cakes, and snacks can be ordered on the Internet or through mail order catalogs.
Because of the delivery time and distances between the U.S. and duty stations overseas, do not order any food gifts that must be kept refrigerated.
Families and friends must have a specific address for their service members. Mail addressed to “Any Serviceman” will not be accepted by the U.S. Postal Service.
Food gifts. Dried beef or poultry such as beef jerky, turkey jerky, or beef slims are safe to mail. Bacteria can’t multiply in food preserved by removing moisture. Dehydrated soups and fruit drink mixes are lightweight and safe to mail. Regional condiments such as hot sauce and Cajun seasonings in packets are useful for spicing up Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
Canned specialties such as pat