By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
When you're far from home, nothing can give you that warm, special feeling inside like a package from home. Just make sure that special feeling you send your soldier isn't actually a sign of foodborne illness.
"Families often want to let their loved ones in the military know they're thinking of them by sending them their favorite foods," said Elizabeth Andress, a food safety specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.
"It's a great idea, but it can turn into risky business if not done properly," she said. "The last thing you want to do is make that loved one sick."
Don't pack foods that can melt
To avoid a food safety catastrophe, Andress suggests not sending the following items:
* Perishable foods that require refrigeration to be safe (meats, poultry, Mom's famous dressing, fish and soft cheeses).
* High-moisture baked goods like pumpkin bread, carrot cake, etc. These will mold.
* Fragile foods such as delicate cookies.
* Cookies that contain chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, etc. These will melt.
* Anything in glass containers.
"Foods in your gift package will have to be able to remain at room temperature and still be safe to eat," Andress said. "That means don't send meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses or wet foods. Bacteria grow well on these types of foods and can double in number every 20 minutes."
Do pack hard candies and cookies
Andress says a host of food items are safe to mail to friends and family members in the armed forces. She recommends the following:
* Dried products like jerky, dehydrated soup mixes and drink mixes.
* Hot sauce and seasonings in unbreakable jars or packets.
* Commercially canned speciality products like shrimp, dips,corned beef, anchovies, etc. (In cans only, no glass jars).
* Dry cookies and baked goods like ginger snaps, biscotti, speciality crackers, etc.
* Fruit cakes and low-moisture breads.
* Sturdy homemade candies like pralines, toffees and hard candies.
* Dried fruits, nuts and trail mix.
"Keep in mind that the lower the moisture in the food, the better it will keep," Andress said. "Hard candies and firm homemade sweets such as fudge, pralines and toffee are good choices because their high sugar content prevents bacterial growth."
Cushion your goodies for the long trip
And remember the food items have a long way to travel to their final destination.
"Food items should be packed securely, and firm cookies and homemade candies should be wrapped individually," she said. "And be sure to place the food gifts in a sturdy box and seal it securely with packing tape."
She warns gift package senders to steer clear of pork, pork products and alcohol if the recipient is serving in the Persian Gulf. These items are forbidden there.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)