Updated: December 29, 2012 6:02AM
Q. I will be sending packages overseas for a group at my church. What are the current restrictions and any guidelines that I need to follow?
A. The U.S. Department of Agriculture meat and poultry hot line offers the following recommendations for sending food gifts to U.S. armed service members overseas:
• Dried beef or poultry such as beef jerky, turkey jerky or beef slims are safe to mail. Bacteria can’t grow in foods preserved by removing moisture.
• Dehydrated soups and drink mixes are lightweight and safe to mail. Condiments such as hot sauce and Cajun seasonings in packets or unbreakable jars are useful for spice lovers.
• Canned specialties such as corned beef, anchovies, shrimp, dips and cracker spreads make nice treats. Recipients should be cautioned not to use any cans that are damaged or swollen. Foods in glass containers should not be mailed because they can break.
• Dense and dry baked goods such as fruitcakes and biscotti are good choices for mailing because they will not mold. Other suitable baked goods include commercially packaged cakes and cookies in airtight tins, dry cookies such as gingersnaps and specialty crackers.
• High-moisture baked goods such as pumpkin bread — while safe at room temperature for a few days — should not be mailed because they will most likely mold before delivery. Fragile foods like delicate cookies won’t make the trip intact. When mailing firm cookies and homemade candies, wrap each piece individually and pack items in commercially popped corn, Styrofoam packing “peanuts” or foam to help cushion the trip. Place the food gifts in a sturdy box and seal it securely with packing tape.
• Dried fruits such as raisins and apricots, canned nuts and fruit, and commercially packaged trail mix need no refrigeration.
• Hard candies and sturdy homemade sweets such as pralines and toffee are safe to mail because their high sugar content prevents bacterial growth.
As an alternative to homemade gifts, some families may wish to send a military member’s favorite mail-order foods. Shelf stable beef summer sausage, cheeses, cakes and snacks can be ordered on the Internet or through mail-order catalogues. 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 for safety.
• Good shipping containers include: rigid plastic freezer or refrigerator containers, or metal canisters.
• Two, one-gallon plastic milk containers can be cut to hold food. Cut the top half off each jug. Wash and air dry. Place the wrapped food inside one half; fill empty spaces with crumpled tissue, or unsalted air-popped popcorn. Fit the second jug half over the first like a lid and seal with freezer tape. Place in box to mail.
• Wrap food in aluminum foil or plastic before placing in shipping containers. This will prevent the products from drying out during shipping.
• When mailing firm cookies and homemade candies, wrap each piece individually to preserve their shape.
• If you are going to ship food in its baking container, cool and remove the product from the pan. After cooled, wrap in plastic wrap or foil and then return it to the clean pan.
• Once the food in pre-packaged well, then select a strong cardboard box to mail the food in.
• Place a cushion of crumbled newspaper (a way to send local news to family as well as being a cushion for the food), commercially popped popcorn or foam packing “peanuts.”
• Seal securely with packaging tape.
• If there are perishable foods in the box, label it “Perishable” so it will be sent and delivered in the quickest method possible.
The U.S. Post Office says “Mail early” if you want the package to arrive by Christmas. Check with the U.S. Post Office for mailing dates. The postal clerk will ask customers what is in the package.
The purpose of that is to be sure it is sent in a safe manner. For example, if the package contains products that cannot be safely sent in an airplane then they need to know that. If they are perishable products they want to get it there as quickly as possible. So the reason for asking the questions is to help get the product there safely and using appropriate methods of transportation.