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When we haven’t been able to gather together for many months because of COVID-19, gifts of food may be even more meaningful than usual this year.

Be there in spirit by safely sending holiday foods

K-State food safety specialist offers tips

Nov. 4, 2020

OLATHE, Kan. – COVID-19 will keep many from traveling to see friends and family for the holidays, but you can be there in spirit by sending your special homemade fudge to your mom or cookies to your favorite niece.

“Everyone likes to get gifts of food, especially homemade or specialty foods,” said Londa Nwadike, extension associate professor in food safety at Kansas State University and the University of Missouri.

She advises, however, that when sending a food gift, to pack it safely, mark it clearly and notify the recipient that it’s on the way. That’s especially important for perishable items to ensure that your efforts don’t go to waste because they sat in a mailbox or on a porch too long.

Sending your blueberry preserves or special salsa or summer sausage may be even more meaningful this year than usual since we’ve been encouraged to be apart for months. It’s like sending a little part of you.

It is important to note that the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food and food packages is considered very low, Nwadike said. It is always important, though, for everyone to use good food safety and COVID-prevention practices including frequent hand washing.

Keep perishables pleasing

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

The post office or shipping company may be able to recommend the best packing and shipping method to get perishables to their destinations as quickly as possible.

“Although you may want the gift to be a surprise, with perishable foods you should notify the recipient and make sure someone will be home to receive it on the expected delivery date,” Nwadike said. “For packing, use a sturdy box made 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 more quickly.”

Mark the package “Keep Refrigerated” and list the contents on the outside of the package. Include instructions on proper temperature and storage inside the box for the recipient.

Going retail

If time is short or your cooking or baking skills could use a little more refining, consider ordering mail order or online food gifts. With a range of food companies based in Kansas and Missouri alone, it’s a way to support local businesses in this most challenging of years.

Don’t be hesitant, however, to ask the company how they keep food cold in transit (if perishable) and if their boxes are clearly marked “keep refrigerated” and come with proper arrival and storage information for the recipient.

Sweet foods such as fruitcakes, candy, jams and jellies can be shipped at room temperature and seldom pose health problems, because the sugar and other preservatives generally postpone deterioration, Nwadike said.

There are exceptions, however, when it comes to cheesecake and similar foods, which must stay cold (under 40 degrees F) to prevent spoilage. Those foods should be shipped frozen with directions to refrigerate upon arrival.

The main thing, Nwadike said, is to enjoy the holidays and if sending a homemade or specially ordered food can enhance someone’s day – even if you can’t be there – then all the better.

More information about food safety, including food preservation and produce safety is available online or by checking with your local K-State Research and Extension office.

At a glance

Maybe this year more than ever, it means so much to send food gifts to friends and family for the holidays. A K-State specialist offers tips to do it safely.


K-State Research and Extension food safety

Notable quote

“Although you may want the gift to be a surprise, with perishable foods you should notify the recipient and make sure someone will be home to receive it on the expected delivery date.”

-- Londa Nwadike, extension associate professor in food safety, Kansas State University and University of Missouri


Londa Nwadike

Written by

Mary Lou Peter


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu. K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.