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Tips on Sending Food Gifts to U.S. Military

Posted by CiCi Williamson, Technical Information Specialist, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, Food Safety Education Staff in Food and Nutrition Health and Safety
Feb 21, 2017

Being home for the holidays will not be possible this year for many American armed forces. The next best thing may be receiving greetings and gifts of food items. Many foods are safe to mail. However, you must have the name and address of a military person stationed overseas. Because of security risks, the U.S. Postal Service will not deliver mail addressed to “Any Serviceman.”

It’s important to mail food gifts that are not perishable, can tolerate a range of temperatures, and won’t break with rough handling. 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 and bar cookies are also good candidates for mailing.

Perishable foods are not safe to mail. These include foods that must be kept refrigerated (at 40 °F or below) to remain safe -- 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 °F and can double every 20 minutes. When this happens, someone eating the food can get sick.

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 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.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Meat and Poultry Hotline offers the following advice concerning food gifts for armed forces serving away from home including those overseas.

RECOMMENDED FOOD GIFTS

  • Dried beef or poultry such as beef jerky, turkey jerky, or beef slims are safe to mail. Bacteria can’t grow in dried foods 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 (MRE).
  • Canned specialties such as paté, corned beef, shelf-stable hams, 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 fruit cakes 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 ginger snaps, 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 sturdy cookies and homemade candies, wrap each piece individually and pack items in commercially popped corn 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 fudge, pralines, and toffee are safe to mail because their high sugar content prevents bacterial growth.

Ask Karen, the virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov. Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or via live chat at AskKaren.gov. On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline is open from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm Eastern Time.

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Comments

Keri
Dec 06, 2013

I've always been told that mailing things like fudge or other chocolates were frowned upon. Something to do w/ high temps and them melting. Has this changed? I know if it was me and I was craving chocolate I wouldn't care if it had melted or not. It'd still taste good :-)

Max
Oct 19, 2015

Can I mail beef jerky to family and friends in the United States

Linda
Mar 13, 2018

Hi Karen,

I want to send bagels and taylor ham. The bagels I would put into a zip lock plastic bag. The taylor ham comes already in sealed plastic but need to be refrigerator. Would I put the dry ice on the ham and can I put both in the same box?

Mary
Mar 14, 2018

Great info!

Ben Weaver
Mar 14, 2018

@Linda - thank you for your comment. It is safe to put the bagels and ham in the same box with the dry ice. The dry ice will keep the ham cold enough to be safe, and won’t adversely affect the bagels, although you’ll want to wrap everything well to protect it from the ice. You may wish to wrap over the packaging with foil or freezer paper to protect against freezer burn. Fill the box with newspaper or other filling to insulate it.

Audrey
Jul 07, 2018

I would like to send salami. I am hanging it to dry it out. How do I know when it is ready?

David Deleon
Jan 29, 2019

I would like to send beef jerky made by me to soldiers overseas , what is my criteria for doing so I would like to discuss, David Deleon

Ben Weaver
Jan 30, 2019

@David Deleon - We recommend that you contact our technical staff via AskFSIS with your question. AskFSIS is an automated system, and our scientists, inspection, and labeling experts answer the questions. First go to askfsis.custhelp.com.

You can search AskFSIS's database for information. If you don’t find the answer you can submit a question, or call the Policy Development Division at 1-800-233-3935 to speak to one of our staff officers. We hope this helps!

Sandy
Mar 20, 2019

I would like to know if it’s ok to send dried chili peppers overseas

Grace Green
Aug 24, 2019

I shipped beef jerky to korea and had it vacuum packed but when my son got it it was moldy. I bought it fresh and vacuum sealed it the same day. Why would it mold?

Ben Weaver
Sep 04, 2019

@Grace Green - thank you for your comment. Did you purchase this product from a meat counter or did you purchase it already processed in-store from a known brand or manufacturer? Initial thoughts are that it was not fully or properly dried. Lingering moisture in the product when it is not properly dried may cause it to mold, even if vacuum sealed. You can find more information on this topic in our Jerky Food Safety fact sheet. If this product was manufactured and is a brand name product, please call our Meat and Poultry Hotline to speak with a food safety expert so we can investigate at 1-888-674-6854.

JOHN A ZUKAITIS
Sep 12, 2019

Can I ship beef jerky and pistachio nuts to my son via USPS?

Ben Weaver
Sep 16, 2019

@John A Zukaitis - thank you for your comment. Yes, this would be perfectly safe and acceptable according to the U.S. Postal Service’s guidelines on shipping items internationally. For more information, please visit their site directly at: www.usps.com/ship/shipping-restrictions.htm. I hope this helps!

Na na
Sep 27, 2019

Hi, may i know how i should start off with to deliver food to egytp for my us military friend ?

Gail Adolph
Jul 14, 2020

Karen can I ship what kind of food to my friend in Africa want send some can goods gthings that can last awhile for travel I don’t want get in trouble just want send some food

Paula Meadows
Jul 29, 2020

Hi my soldier n KS wants homemade chilli if I get dry ice n box mail gets there n 4 days will be ok

Adrienne kearney
Nov 08, 2020

Can I vaccum seal good and ship on dry ice to military APO address?

Steph
Nov 17, 2020

Hi, I was wondering if I wanted to send a pint of ice cream and some chocolates for a bday gift if thatd be ok. As long as I packed it with dry ice??

Amy F
Dec 11, 2020

I want to mail some frozen tamales to Bagram Afghanistan, it is an Apo address it will be pack with dry ice in a medical style transport styrofoam cooler. Is this allowed?

Ben Weaver
Dec 17, 2020

@Amy F - thank you for your comment. As long as perishable food items are kept below 40 °F throughout transport, the food items would be considered safe. Perishable food items should not be above 40 °F for more than 2 hours, or they can cause foodborne illness. When shipping perishable items, there must be a cold source included in the shipment that can last for days (or even weeks) to ensure any perishables would be kept below 40 °F throughout transport. If this cannot be guaranteed, it is recommend that you do not attempt to send frozen items overseas.

Some shipment carriers and mailing systems do not allow for shipments or packages to be sent with dry ice. For all rules and restrictions, please check with the shipment carrier you plan to send the package through to ensure you are following all guidelines prior to shipping your package. According to USPS, dry ice is prohibited to be mailed to international or APO/FPO/DPO addresses.

Ed
Dec 20, 2020

I would like to send some pecans from my own trees to my son in Germany. They are dry, well-packaged, and not perishable.

Raquelle Sather
Mar 15, 2021

How do you send salsa without glass? Ir can you send glass jars?

Ben Weaver
Mar 23, 2021

@Raquelle Sather - thank you for your comment. Foods in glass containers should not be mailed because they can break. Unless the salsa is shelf stable, it would not be safe to send at room temperature. The best option for sending shelf-stable salsa would be to send a commercially canned (in aluminum) version.