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Send a taste of home to troops overseas By April Reese Sorrow

Millions of American soldiers will spend the holidays away from home. Many stateside family members will ship them tasty treats from home. A University of Georgia expert says to use caution when packing food and pay attention to shipping dates to make sure the gifts arrive on time and edible.

“Families often want to let their loved ones in the military know they’re thinking of them by sending some of their favorite foods,” said Elizabeth Andress, a food safety specialist with UGA Cooperative Extension. “It’s a great idea, but foods need to be chosen carefully and shipped properly.”

Foods that ship well include pound cakes, cookies high in sugar and shortening, bar cookies, brownies and fudge. Shortbread, sugar cookies and nut bars ship well, too. Avoid cookies filled with cream or custard, but fruit and nut fillings are fine.

Soft, moist cookies will mold quickly in humid climates and are not a good choice. Delicate cakes that crumble easily, pies and yeast breads are fragile and spoil easily.

“If you are sending cake, don’t frost the cake before mailing,” Andress said. “Instead, include a package of dry frosting mix or can of commercial frosting in the package.”

Raisins, apricots and other dried fruits, canned nuts, shelf-stable pudding cups and commercially prepared and packaged trail mix ship well. Coffee blends, dried foods, nuts, cereal and nut mixes, spiced teas or herb blends are also good choices. Individually wrapped cereal, granola or energy bars, chips and cakes are also recommended as snack food gifts for varying weather conditions.

Andress offered these tips:

  • Think about the weather conditions where the recipient is located and how the food will hold up there.
  • Consider packing commercially processed, durable foods such as canned foods with pop top lids like tuna, chicken and franks and beans.
  • Commercially packed cakes and cookies in tins will hold up well in many weather conditions.
  • Microwavable soups, macaroni and cheese, brownie mix and popcorn are items often requested by military personnel.

Don’t send fresh, cured or smoked meats. Beef jerky or beef slims are safe.

Once foods are purchased and prepared, use care when packing to prevent breaking, leaking and contamination.

The food can be placed in clean boxes, metal food tins or plastic boxes or bags. If packing a cake, use a container only slightly larger than the cake to minimize crumbling. Cookies should be wrapped in pairs, back to back, with waxed paper between them and foil or plastic wrap around them, she said. Cookies that are not flat should be wrapped individually.

Put crumbled wax paper or padding in the bottom of the container to cushion cookies. If cookies are layered, put waxed paper between the layers. Bar cookies and brownies are best packed uncut in the baking pan, in a box the size of the baking pan.

“To pack several foods in a care package, choose a box that is roomy enough to allow plenty of packing material on all sides,” Andress said.

Start filling your box with a layer of packing material such as newspaper, foam pieces or plastic bubble wrap. Center the gift in the middle of the mailing box. Then, overfill the box with cushioning material to make sure there’s no air space left in the box.

“Do not use popped corn or puffed cereal as cushioning packing material, as these items attract insects,” she said.

Don’t pack food in glass containers or put glass items in the package with food. Aerosols are not allowed either.

The U.S. Postal Service expects to process more than 30 million pounds of mail destined for overseas military installations during November and December, including war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To make sure holiday cards and packages are delivered to APO/FPO addresses overseas by Dec. 25, the Postal Service offers recommended shipping dates according to zip code. The recommended ship date for priority mail shipped to AE Zip 093 is Dec. 4; AE Zip 090 and 092 is Dec. 11.

More recommended shipping dates are at www.usps.com/mailpro/2009/sepoct/page4.htm.

(April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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